Judging by the amount of post-apocalyptic literature that's being published every year, I'd wager to say that we just can't wait for the end of the world to come around for the chance to prove that we are indeed important renegades who can save the world, lead humanity and all that jazz. Let's face it though: the overwhelming majority of us would be ground to dust in virtually any post-apocalyptic scenario, whether it's an alien invasion, a virus or some good old-fashioned zombies. We seldom take the time to imagine what life in this kind of society would be like and look at it from beyond the confines of our own narrow viewpoint. No matter which way you decide to look at it, the world would become a hellhole without convenience stores, physiotherapists, running water or electricity, and the worst of all, no television and internet. That's more or less the kind of devastating setting we're dealing with in Mike Carey's The Girl With All the Gifts .
Before even starting to discuss anything at all about the book, I would like to take the time to adress the synopsis that's presented on the back of the book as well as online. Reading it, you would have the impression that the book was penned entirely by a simplistic child, and that's just not true. I understand they wanted to hook readers in and make the synopsis in Melanie's voice, the titular young girl, and that would have been fine, if she ever actually spoke in that way. What I'm getting at is don't be fooled by the synopsis; God-knows why they decided to have it grossly misrepresent the story that is actually written in a mature and intelligent voice with an elegant vocabulary. I suspect it's another case of the publisher making decisions behind the author's back, probably while cackling like an evil scientist.
Anyhow, I think it's time we moved on to the story. It's one of those stories where you'll enjoy it more the less you know about it, so I'll only give you a very general idea of what's going on. We are in a futuristic dystopian U.K. society that exists in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by the so-called “Hungries”; they are essentially that world's zombies, but referred to by a childish name. We have Melanie, a ten year-old girl who is taken by an armed escort from her cell to her classrooms every day, where one of her teachers, Miss Justineau, is the only person on Earth who responds to her with kindness and affection. All in all a typical, healthy life for an ordinary girl. However, there comes a time when Melanie discovers there is something special about her (that justifies the armed escort, at least) and is confronted with making the kinds of far-reaching decisions on humanity's behalf, decisions that ideally shouldn't fall on a ten year-old child's shoulders.
Apart from the premise, one of the biggest things that attracted me to the book was the fact that everything is said and done in one novel. Where many authors today prefer to write trilogies, or even worse, never-ending series, Mike Carey decided to bring a complete story in a single package. Once we reach the conclusion we aren't left hanging in any way, with all the plots being brought to satisfying endings. Even if there will be some kind of sequel or prequel to this, The Girl With All the Gifts will forever be a standalone experience.
Now, I'm sure some of you might be thinking, just like I did before I read the book, that it's simply a slightly different take on the zombie genre, one that we've probably already seen too. However, as I got deeper and deeper into the story it became apparent that the zombies weren't exactly the main focus of it all. Rather, Carey uses his phenomenal descriptive powers to acquaint us with Melanie's world and explain to us, bit by bit, how it came to be that way. He also concentrates quite heavily on Melanie's development as a human being, her relationship with Miss Justineau, and the transformations her special “gift” makes her go through.
I think it would be fair to say that this story is a combination of many genres and doesn't pertain to one category more than another. There are emotional tear-jerking scenes, brutal and gory action sequences (not too often though), horror elements and thought-provoking gems, all set in a dystopian society in a post-apocalyptic future populated with zombies and as well as the supernaturally-gifted. It's a total mash-up that works a lot better than expected, especially when you consider that most other books with this approach end up being all over the place and feel like unreadable gibberish. There is always enough variety and substance to the storylines to keep the events moving forward at a rather high pace. During the latter half of the book things pick up even more momentum and lead to a very strong and memorable ending, the kind that will make you put down the book and blankly stare into space while processing it all.
And thus, I can only conclude with the note that The Girl With All the Gifts is a book that deserves all the attention and acclaim it got over the past couple of years. I feel as if the premise and synopsis betray the content inside the book by underselling the quality of the writing and the originality of the story. It's a truly intense ride from the beginning to the end, populated with colourful characters and jaw-dropping events that elicit emotions from you one way or the other. If you are into dystopian futures, the post-apocalypse, supernaturally-gifted kids and zombies, this is a book you simply can't afford to miss out on; there's just nothing like it out there.
Mike Carey (1959)
Mike Carey is a British writer who dabbled in comics, films, novels and books. He worked on well-known projects such as X-Men, Hellblazer and Lucifer , and recently he released his first best-selling novel that will soon be made into a major movie, The Girl With All the Gifts.