“The Girl With all the Gifts” was an excellent read for many reasons. It was tense, action-packed and well-imagined. While it isn’t the first zombie book to employ the idea of a sentient and not-so-flesh-hungry zombie (i.e. Warm Bodies), it was a compelling read. It was also a heartbreaking examination of what it means to be human, or not-quite human, at least.
For the Greater Good
“The Girl With all of the Gifts” poses an interesting question: what constitutes humanity? Melanie, a zombie kid who can think and talk like the rest of us, struggles with this idea a lot in the book. Part horror narrative, part coming of age story, Melanie’s story is captivating because we follow her growth as she comes to understand who she is and what her role will be in the new post-apocalyptic London.
Apart from the engrossing journey of Melanie and a group of humans from the base where she was kept, M.R. Carey plays with some fascinating concepts. We hear stories about the bombing of “hungry infested zones,” where there are lots of civilian casualties among many other violent, ugly things that echo what has been done in the name of peace and progress. That Melanie, a zombie, can learn to suppress her violent urges and yet Dr. Caroline Caldwell makes a career of dissecting zombie children in the name of science was one particularly evocative juxtaposition.
The New American (British?) Dream
The zombie narrative is not a new idea, although there has been several iterations of zombies laying siege to continents to suggest that the trend has captivated the minds of readers everywhere. Even the CDC has a section of their website for “zombie preparedness!”
Professor Mark Anderson of University of Regina, who is aptly named “The Zombie Prof” suggests that our fascination with the undead comes from a fear of invasion, but also for a desire to rebuild and create a new “American” dream. That the notion of starting over in a world where work is permanently cancelled and there are no mortgage payments seems to be part of the twisted post-apocalyptic fantasy. After reading “The Girl With all of the Gifts,” I’d have to agree. While there is no specific moment in this book where a “takeover” occurs, we are left with Melanie and Ms. Justineau, her favourite teacher. We are given the impression that there is hope, but perhaps not the same kind of hope we had imagined in a world free of zombie pathogens.
The Final Verdict
This book was compulsively readable. Heartbreaking. One of the coolest zombie narratives I’ve ever read. What better way is there to start off the holiday season than to read a zombie book that is both horrifying and oddly heartwarming.