The Girl with all the Gifts Review
Updated: Feb 8, 2019
By M. R. Carey
I kept seeing videos on Instagram and Facebook of clips from the movie adaptation of the same name every time I logged online but never heard any news, good or bad, on whether or not it was worth watching. When I watched it, I didn’t think it was all that good but then I heard it was based off a novel so I had to go to the original source. Thank goodness I did because The Girl with all the Gifts was much more entertaining and unique as a novel than it was as a movie.
This book begins in Beacon where a military base has been set up with the surviving humans of the infection epidemic. A fungal infection, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, has wiped out most of humanity over the past 20 years, resulting in mindless zombie-like creatures that attack and eat anything close by. This infection can spread through the spores of the fungus itself or through blood and saliva. What makes this unique is the children who are infected retain the same cognitive abilities as any other child, even though they are just as interested in eating flesh. At the military base, they are keeping a lot of these children to study them and understand why is it they seemed to have bonded with the infection versus succumbing to it in the hopes they can eventually discover a vaccine or cure.
Melanie is the main character and is chosen to be dissected by Dr. Caldwell, but her favorite teacher, Justineau, manages to rescue her from the lab at the same time while the military base is attacked by a group of infected. Caldwell, who is gravely injured, Justineau and Melanie escape - even though they know having Melanie with them might not be much of an escape from the infected. Melanie understands the risk she plays to the others and willingly puts on a muzzle and handcuffs.
During their journey, they discover that Melanie is basically invisible to the other infected due to the same fungal infection being inside her, which allows her to navigate around them or find ways to draw them away from the others. They also discover a group of other children who are similar to Melanie in the sense that they still have retained their mental functions, even though they are a lot more primal compared to Melanie who received education at the base. They continue to pass by trees growing out of long-dead infected which contain spores full of the fungus, which makes them fear if these spores can be released.
Caldwell finds a dead infected and decides to experiment on him which leads to her discover, before dying shortly after, that there is no possible cure for this infection due to the fact that the fungus infects in the brain and the damage is irreversible. The children born of these infected were born with an almost evolutionary bond between fungus and brain to create the intelligent children such as Melanie and the others they found. Melanie decides to burn the tree and release the spores because she believes that as long as humans and these second-generation infected co-exist, there will always be a destructive war, thus infecting the rest of humanity. The only one who isn’t infected is Justineau who is forced to live in a mobile research van in order to educate the feral second-generation infected children as per Melanie’s request.
Final Rating: 8/10
I love saying this - the book was so much better than the movie! I don’t know if it was the budget that was the problem or they just had a hard time really making the movie flow but the book was so much more engaging. I love zombie books (movies, shows, everything zombie really) and I thought this was such a fresh and unique take. I am used to reading the typical zombie book where they just come back from the dead and are ready to eat human flesh and while I still think that is such a fun take on zombies - The Girl with All the Gifts makes you almost feel sympathetic for the zombies versus afraid of them.
I think it was great that they had a legitimate source of the infection, which was the fungus, and how they ended the story by making it clear that there was no cure - only the next step in evolution. I think most zombie books give no reason why people were turned into zombies and always hint at cures that just never happen. I also love the character development and features of Melanie. Even though she is just a child, she is intelligent and observant. She changes from intelligent but complacent prisoner in the beginning to the start of a new evolutionary period in humanity because she understands that instead of entertaining a fight between humans and infected, it is easier for everyone to just be infected and let nature take its course. In this book, it makes sense that this should be the next step as well especially if the humans are only destined for infection in the end.
As much as I enjoyed this book, there are still a few flaws. I think they could have better explained how these children were born - if this was because the infected gave birth in the early stages of their infection or if they manage to reproduce in their infected stage without knowing. It isn’t very clear and honestly doesn’t make much sense. Also, it is left open ended that there should only be one human survivor left, Justineau. How quickly do these spores reach all of humanity? What is this woman going to eat? And how is Melanie going to make sure the other children don’t eat her? As much as I feel it makes sense that Melanie and the children are the next logical step in humanity, I think maybe it wasn’t the right timing to do what she did. If she could have found other understanding humans like Justineau, she probably could have set up a school-like base to educate the children from multiple sources and create an opportunity to co-exist.
Even with all those questions left unanswered, I loved this book. I loved Melanie and how she was filled with such complex human emotions. This made the fact that she was different from the rest of the infected extremely clear. Even when her body would naturally be interested in eating human flesh, we got to see her inner struggle as she overrode that feeling since she knew it wasn’t the right thing to do. I also love that the main reason she wanted to be strong and not eat humans was because of her love for her teacher Justineau. This shows that the children were capable of restraint with the proper treatment and attention - which only further shows how more developed they were from the other infected. Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to those looking for a unique spin on another zombie story. Could this be our future?