The Girl with All the Gifts
by M.R. Carey
Reader Appeal: Young adult and adults
Genre: Sci-Fi / Thriller
PopFam Rating: B+
Every day Melanie is held at gunpoint in her cell while her feet, hands, and head, are strapped into a wheelchair, leaving her immobile for the rest of the day. She’s that dangerous. And she’s only 10.
In The Girl with All the Gifts, M.R. Carey takes readers to a post-apocalyptic world where a pathogen has infected most of humanity, turning them into hungries (not far from the beings we currently call zombies). Once a human is infected with this fungus, he or she cannot turn off the urge to eat living flesh, and also becomes nearly impossible to kill. And in the vast majority of cases, the virus leaves the victim an emotionless and senseless husk—a killing machine without any ability to reason. A hungry isn’t even smart enough to turn a doorknob. But there are a few exceptions, and Melanie is one of them. She is a hungry child, and a genius.
The focus of this story is on Melanie and her beloved teacher, Miss Justineau. Melanie and a few other hungry children who have somehow retained their minds are kept until military guard while they are studied. They appear to have normal emotions, desires for friendship and love, and the ability to learn. Yet…they are also killers. So Miss Justineau and other teachers test the children, taking them through their paces in chemestry, calculus, and history. Miss Justineau also indulgest them with stories, and Melanie’s favorite is the story of Pandora, whose name means “the girl with all the gifts.” It’s this little girl of the gods who has every gift, but cannot turn off her curiosity, so opens a box of evil upon the world. Melanie loves Pandora, and the parallels of her story are referenced throughout this one.
The plot takes a key turn when the military base falls, and Melanie, Miss Justineau, two soldiers, and one of the researchers, Dr. Caldwell, are left alive and must trek to what they believe is the last remaining outpost where humans are still living. Along the way are dangers of hungries and other predators…and the threat of Melanie herself turning on the group.
What is a person? This is a key question throughout The Girl with All the Gifts. Dr. Caldwell and her associates think of the hungry children as lab animals at best. She always refers to Melanie as “test subject number one,” and cannot wait to cut open Melanie’s brain to see what’s inside. She’s already done this to many other hungry children, without anesthesia, because they are only animals after all. Caldwell is motivated by her desire to save the remaining bit of humanity from the fungus that causes one to become a hungry—and she’s hoping for recognition of her brilliance. Yet the others who journey with Melanie on their cross-country trek begin, bit by bit, to see her as a human child suffering from an infection, instead of as a monster.
Parents should be aware that language in this book is coarse, and violent content here is graphic. The author also laughs at the idea of God, putting religious beliefs on the same level as belief in Zeus and the gods of mythology. Yet there is a clear moral message. In our culture, we might refer to someone who is a monster or who has any bizarre abnormality as a “freak of nature.” In this story, those beings are called “abortions.” Those “abortions” are studied and cut apart with the hope of saving the rest of humanity. “They’re not human,” scientists reason, and they’ve convinced everyone else to believe the same. A remarkable similarity to current discussion and reasoning about the worth of testing and researching unborn human children.
A fast-paced read, filled with twists, turns, and painful emotion, The Girl with All the Gifts will open Pandora’s box for readers wanting a thrill—and a good discussion when it’s over.
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