Once again it is the month of May, the time when summer kicks in and the heat in Texas becomes nigh unbearable. It’s the time for tubing and swimming, watering holes and greenbelts. When we’re out, we want shade and patios, cervezas and queso; and when we’re in we want air-conditioning and comfy chairs, iced tea and barbecue. But, more than anything, we want a good summer read, something that can be read everywhere we go and something that can turn our minds away from the oppressive summer heat. What we want is a good genre book and this summer, that book is The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey.
M.R. Carey is a pseudonym for Mike Carey, a well-known comic book writer highly regarded for his work on the Neil Gaiman-inspired Lucifer and for his own creator-owned book The Unwritten, both published by Vertigo Comics. Though he has written numerous novels, this is the first I’ve read and I have to say it: I’m in, hook, line and sinker.
An extrapolation and expansion of his Edgar Award-nominated story “Iphigenia In Aulis”, which was selected by editor Paula Guran for The 2013 Year’s Dark Fantasy & Horror collection, The Girl With All The Gifts is the story of Melanie, a very special girl. She is smart, funny, and oh so adorable. She also lives her entire life in a cell and the classroom where all the other special children like herself are educated. One day that routine is shattered and nothing will ever remain the same again.
Whilst the setting is post-apocalyptic, this is not one of those dystopian novels that’s all the rage these days. Melanie is not a Katniss Everdeen, shoulders slumping under the pressures of changing her world. No, Melanie is so much more and so much less. She’s just a bright-eyed, brilliant girl entranced by the world around her and whose only desire is to survive the seething mass of zombies that have laid waste to England.
Yes, I mentioned zombies. Just like dystopia, zombies are big business these days. But instead of the cynical angst of The Walking Dead, this is a book with heart that exists far more in communion with Richard Matheson than George Romero.
To tell you the truth, it’s hard talking about this book because the twists and turns are heartbreaking, sometimes heartwarming, and even both at the same time. I want you to enjoy every page of this book. I want you to savor the characters who will do anything, even lay down their lives, for Melanie. And I want you to fall in love with Melanie, who will do anything to protect the people she loves even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice.
As Joss Whedon writes in his blurb for the book, The Girl With All The Gifts “…is so thoughtfully crafted, so heartfelt, remorseless, and painfully human, that it takes the potentially tired trope of the zombie apocalypse and makes it as fresh as it is terrifying.” It’s the best zombie novel since 2006’s World War Z by Max Brooks and belongs on your bookshelf alongside that classic end-of-the-world masterpiece, I Am Legend.
Melanie, you got heart, kid.
– Joe T.
This post was originally run in 2014 with the hardcover release of the book. Since then, The Girl With All The Gifts has been shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clark Award and a winner will be selected on May 6th, 2015. It was also shortlisted for the inaugural James Herbert Award For Horror Writing but unfortunately lost out to the well-deserved The Troop by Nick Cutter. On top of all of this, there’s been an announcement that a film adaptation of the book is in the works as well. Everything’s coming up Melanie!
The Girl With All The Gifts is also the June selection for The Nightmare Factory Book Club. We will meet in the BookPeople Cafe at 8:00 PM on June 23rd to discuss this marvelous book. You should come!