Choose Your Own Adventure: The Girl With All The Gifts

I have a quandary.  I want to tell everybody about the book I just finished, The Girl With All the Gifts. One of the best things about this book was that I had no idea it was a [insert genre] book.  If I’d known it was a [insert genre] book, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. I want to review this book, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t heard of it.

Girl sitting on box trying to keep it shut
Pandora by Frederick Stuart Church

On the other hand I’m thinking: lots of people must know about this book because it’s also been made into a film, released only last year. Maybe these folk would like to read a more extensive review to decide if it’s worthwhile reading.

So to meet these competing reader requirements, this is a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’, where YOU get to decide which review you read.

If you’ve never heard of this book or the film and you think you might read it, for a no-spoilers review… GO TO OPTION A.

If you’ve heard of The Girl With All the Gifts but haven’t read it yet, and don’t know if you should… GO TO OPTION B.

OPTION A – No-spoilers review

Looking at the title and the cover, I thought this was going to be a gentle book about a precocious young girl and her personal journey. It was about a precocious young girl’s personal journey, but it was not gentle.

The book centres on Melanie, a ten year old girl who wishes, like many other 10 year old girls, that she was called something else – she ‘likes the name Pandora a whole lot’ (which means ‘the girl with all the gifts’). However, we learn very quickly that she isn’t like any other 10  year old girl.  She is incarcerated.  She attends school everyday with other children, but she’s wheeled into the clasroom strapped to a chair so she can’t move her head, hands or feet. Melanie loves to learn and she idolises Miss Justineau, one of her teachers: ‘she sits there wide-eyed, drinking in everything that Miss Justineau says, and memorising it so that she can play it back to herself later, in her cell’.

The book starts out this way, making you think it’s about one thing. Then the clues build up, the pieces start falling into place and suddenly <bam> within a few chapters the book is something else altogether.

I struggled to put this book down; I was riveted right to the last page, and I didn’t predict the ending at all. There are some slightly ghoulish bits, but they’re not overly ghastly and as a counterpoint, it’s not a difficult read.  It’s enthralling and escapist – just what you want in a book.

This really is a book that you’ll appreciate more, the less you know. So, you are now excused to buy/ borrow this book at your leisure (and no peaking at Option B).

OPTION B – The full monty

Right. You guys know that this is a book about zombies. It may seem ridiculous, but I HAD NO IDEA.  (I missed the bit in the blurb that likened it to The Walking Dead). As I read further into the first few chapters, I became increasingly perplexed, then horrified, but by that stage I was hooked.

I’ve never read a zombie book before and I’ve only seen one serious zombie film (28 Days Later) and one silly one (Shaun of the Dead), so I didn’t know what to expect. Having picked the brains (ha ha) of my zombie-aficionado friend however, I can confirm that The Girl With All the Gifts does not totally follow the usual zombie journey and so even if you’ve reached zombie-saturation point, there’s still plenty in this book to keep you entranced (get it?).

What makes this book particularly special is the central character Melanie.  We figure out early on that she too is a ‘hungry’, but she is also a very special child – she is a 10 year old genius, with a voracious appetite (groan) for learning and a huge capacity for empathy and love, which would go unfulfilled but for Miss Justineau, her teacher. The love that these two characters develop for each other, despite Miss Justineau being a potential food-source for Melanie, is properly heart-warming.

The other two main characters, scientist Dr Caldwell and military man Sergeant Parks, are well-drawn in their own right, but they also serve to illustrate the deepening relationship between the child and her teacher, and Melanie’s own journey of self-discovery. The chemistry, distrust and hatred these four characters hold for each other waxes and wanes throughout the novel, sometimes matching the external terrors, sometimes as a result of internal ones.

In tandem with delivering a heart-thumping thriller, M.R Carey delves deep into some philosophical questions – the ethics of experimental science; the im/morality of humans; the impotency of the military and the government. There are also existential moments – as the foursome journey south towards London in search of the mythic human citadel, we see the barren and monstrous landscape that England has become, thirty years after the apocalypse. It is these scenes that unveil to us, and the foursome, just how futile the struggle for survival was for almost all of humanity.

Ant covered in a parasite fungus
A zombie ant

As a bonus to get your imagination truly running wild, it turns out that the storyline is not even all that fanciful, as revealed by the Mirror newspaper here.  The Ophiocordyceps fungus, which turns humans into hungries in the book, turns tropical ants into zombie-ants IN REAL LIFE. To wit, a zombie apocalypse is not totally inconceivable.

The Girl With All the Gifts could also be called The Book With Everything You Want: it’s gripping and thrilling but also poignant and it unexpectedly provides a sliver of optimism in what would otherwise be a bleak allegory for humanity. Whether you’re a zombie diehard or a zombie novice, you will devour this book.

This is a site about books and about tea, and how we should read more books and drink more tea. Sometimes, it's hard to know what books to read and what tea to drink. This is where I can help out.


  1. Really fun review! I’ve not read the book but I knew what it was about. Its not a genre I normally read but everyone rates it so highly I think I’ll give it a try.

  2. If only this were not about zombies I might be interested but no matter how talented the author I just can’t get past the fact they are writing about non existent creatures.

    • I find your comment really intriguing. And I’ve been pondering – on the one hand I get what you mean, but at the same time, LOTS of fiction is about non-existent creatures or at least non-existent people. And my big lesson from this book was that zombies are only a plot device to examine humanity better and to throw up ethical conundrums. But, I know where you’re coming from with this- it’s not like I’m suddenly a zombie evangelist!

      • I think my issue is that while the characters in the books I like don’t exist in reality, it’s possible they might. I forget who said this now (it was early nineteenth century) but a realist novel is one where you think you could meet those characters walking down the street. I know I am never going to meet a zombie so why should I care about them?

        • Ahhh! Nice definition. I wonder who that was…. But some may argue , you may well meet a zombie. But I grant you, it’s (hopefully) unlikely.

  3. I am now going to buy this book after reading synopsis A. Sounds intriguing. You write so well.

  4. I love how you formatted this review! I have to say that I have heard of the title but vaguely. I slected option “A” 😉 I am actually going online to order a copy now!

  5. Love this approach to the review! And you’re not alone — I had no idea when I picked it up that it was a zombie book! The blurb I read focused on Melanie and her “gifts”, so I was expecting something more like a superhero/superpowers story. I’m so glad I read it anyway! I might not have it I’d known what it was really about.

    • Actually, our whole book group had no idea, which made me feel much better! Like you, I’m glad I read it. Have you seen there’s now a prequel about the scientists in the tank? Not sure whether I want to read that. I can’t imagine it would be as good.

  6. AAAAARGH! The no spoilers rule should also apply to the comments! I just fast scrolled past review option B so that I could like the post, fast scrolled too far and landed at Booker Talk’s spoiler. Bubble of intrigue popped.

    • Oh drat. I was hoping Option A peeps wouldn’t see some of the comments. There must be a technical way to hide those, but that’s out of my IT league. Still a good book, even if you do know the premise. It’s escapist and a bit different…

      • I should have been more rigorous, either in not going beyond the end of Option A at all, or in my fast scrolling. I’m still intrigued enough to have added it to my wish list.

  7. This book reminded me SO much of Justin Cronin’s trilogy – I loved those book, though, so I really enjoyed this one too 🙂 I hope that prequel is good!

    • Don’t think I’m going to delve into the prequel. I can’t see it being as good, and I hate disappointments!

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