The Girl with All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey

The Girl with All the Gifts
The original "girl with all the gifts" was Pandora, who opened a box that released evil, plague, sorrow, and all the other bad things into the world. In M.R. Carey's The Girl with All the Gifts, the eponymous girl is Melanie. Ten year old Melanie has a genius level intelligence. She's conscientious, modeling her behavior on the heroes of the Greek myths her teachers read to her. One might think it's very strange that she's locked in a cell most of the time and that it takes at least two soldiers to secure her to a wheelchair before she goes to her lessons. Everyone who comes in contact with her douses themselves in a chemical deodorant. Even stranger, she only eats once a week.

Within a few chapters, however, we learn why everyone is so very, very cautious around Melanie and her fellow students. Twenty years before The Girl with All the Gifts opens, a fungus jumped species. The fungus, a mutation of Ophiocordyceps, has turned humans into zombies (known in this book as hungries). For some reason, a small group of children have some resistance to the fungus. They feel an all consuming hunger when they scent human sweat, but they are otherwise fairly normal children. The school is actually a research facility where Dr. Caldwell and her team are trying to find a cure or a vaccine for the Ophiocordyceps fungus.

Of course, it is inevitable in a horror story that things go to hell. Just as Melanie is scheduled for dissection by Dr. Caldwell, surviving humans attack the facility. Melanie flees with her favorite teacher, Helen Justineau, Dr. Caldwell, and two soldiers. The Girl with All the Gifts rapidly changes tone from chilling science fiction to zombie story. Dr. Caldwell maintains her monomaniacal quest to research the mutant Ophiocordyceps. Ironically, she's as relentless in her quest for brains as the hungries that litter the abandoned British landscape.

Carey frequently shuffles narration duty between Melanie and the four humans in their party. From Private Gallagher, we learn about the sorry state of Beacon, the only safe place mentioned in the book. Sergeant Parks teaches us the brutal art of surviving outside Beacon's borders. Dr. Caldwell's feverish (literally, at times, as she's suffering from septicemia) thoughts reveal more and more about the true nature of the Ophiocordyceps infection. Helen Justineau is the conscience of the group. The other humans will kill anything that presents a danger, but she constantly reminds them that Melanie and others like her are children above all else. They may be infected with Ophiocordyceps, but they should be treated like human children. If they slaughter them, Helen asks, doesn't that make them monsters, too?

The big showdown is in London. I don't know how much I can say here without ruining a beautiful and perfect ending to this expectation- and genre-breaking novel. The Pandora references at the beginning of the book hit me hard when I realized what Carey was up to. I will say that there really is no other way for this story to end. Anything else would have been a cheat.

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