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I can’t remember who recommended M.R. Carey’s Girl with All the Gifts to me, but when I was browsing through my library’s e-collection, it was there and so I snatched it up. It’s billed as an end-of-the-world-type story where a tween girl waits in a cell for army-type dudes to collect her – at gunpoint – in a chair for class. They muzzle and cuff her despite the girl’s – Melanie’s – jokes that she won’t bite. I thought it would be like White Horse or maybe 5th Wave. I dived in, despite my quickly waning interest in post-apocalypse and dystopia tales.

The story didn’t help itself: the voice sounded child-like, like Room. It bugged. I wasn’t going to keep reading. Especially when I found out it was about zombies. Wth?! I am also over zombies, in case you needed to know. I didn’t care that they aren’t even called zombies – festering undead by any other name (including “hungries”) are still zombies. But then this thing happened – Melanie found her voice, for one; it grew up a little and lost it’s naivete and overly simple sentence structure. I began caring about Melanie. She hooked me. She hooked me with her love for her teacher, Miss Justineau, and for some rather interesting mythology.

The equation grew: Girl was more like Room + the movie Hanna + Pandora (of the opened-box fame).

I enjoyed the strength Carey gave Melanie at the same time he gave her more and more mysteries to puzzle over. She knew nothing. She put answers together a step or two behind the reader. And yet…I found her adorable and fascinating. She didn’t grate on me the way Justineau’s wretchedly flat mothering instincts did. I thought Justineau and Parks were horribly underdeveloped. Caldwell was delightful for all that she was evil (and can the actress who plays Leonard’s mom on Big Bang please play Caldwell in the film?).

The more I read, the more I needed to know how it all ended. Big, big things happened early on – how could there be more plot in a very plot-heavy story? What was left? A lot more. Sure, I skimmed over chapters (especially when I just wanted to know what this big, huge, YOU-WON’T-BELIEVE-IT! ending was), but for the most part the events and pacing felt right. Natural.

In the end, Girl with All the Gifts won me over. The ending was perfect – and yes, surprising. Sure I’ll recommend it to my zombie-loving reader friends. But not just them. Because Girl was a love story more than it was a fun-filled, zombiefied, end-of-the-world action story. It asks how far you’d go for redemption, and love, and what sacrifices you’d be willing to make. There were a lot of ethical, what-it-means-to-be-human questions raised. And not all the answers are predictably unpredictable.

4 of 5 stars (if you lop off the rough start).