The Girl with All the Gifts

M.R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts begins in a strangely dystopia-esque world where it appears that children are caged and tied to wheelchairs. It’s only later that we find the children are zombies. But aside from other zombie tropes, these children are still functioning mentally. They are able to learn and process information. The sharpest child with these skills is the protagonist of the story, Melanie. With this fascinating development of zombie-children, army scientists have set up a special base to study these “specimens.” Most intriguing about Melanie’s acuity is her capacity to love, which develops between her and one of the instructors, Miss Justineau.

Of course, as any zombie novel is prone to do, whatever control that may have been left post-apocalypse will ultimately crumble. So goes this science base leaving a small band of humans and high-functioning zombie left to proceed on a journey throughout the remainder of the novel.

Carey’s excellence in storytelling is illustrated through subtlety. This is not an in-your-face horror genre novel. The scare-factor that, in this case, won’t leave you sleepless is the lingering humanity in Melanie that is warring against a new natural (zombie) state. Why is this frightening? In all other zombie novels, yes it is a scary thought to be eaten by a once-human monster. But we can ultimately separate these monsters from ourselves because the person inside is no more. Whatever happens to the spirit, we know zombies are reanimated shells. Not so in this novel — well at least for some.

This ultimately draws out the intrinsic question: what makes a person a person? Melanie is a zombie, but again, she has the capacity to think, to talk, to hinder herself (for the most part) from ripping everyone to shreds. So is she a monster? Do we doom her (aka kill her) because this “disease” has doomed her?

Favorite Passages

there were just things without names, and things without names don’t stay in your mind. (1)

you can’t save people from the world. There’s nowhere else to take them. (51)

When there’s nothing to do, and you can’t even move, time goes a lot more slowly. (61)

all love is blind as it needs to be. (228)

How could there ever have been enough people to live in all these houses? How could they ever have built their towers so high? And how could anything in the whole world ever have conquered them? (247)

the horror of the unknown is more frightening than any horror you can understand (370)

The Fall Guy

James Lasdun’s The Fall Guy is a complicated and overwrought piece of literature. The main character, Matthew, is full of misdirection both in the way his life has lead him thus far and the way he leads the reader in the present. There is so much separation, so much space, between all the characters, like Matthew and Charlie being cousins, not brothers–like Matthew’s idea of Chloe as a daughter, sister, mother, friend, lover, when she really isn’t any of those things to him– and it’s within these wide spaces where deception takes place as to who the characters really are. The facade and ambiguity entrenches the novel in some spooky watchfulness, that of Matthew’s watchful, but I wonder if some of the spookiness doesn’t come from our own (the reader’s) watchfulness. Yet aside from the watchfulness, there is an inherent misconstruction on all accounts as to who the characters are, and who we are lead to believe they are.

To create this feeling, the novel has to be built on the mundane, and it digs a mote between the reader and the characters by silently introducing them as the “1%” often talked about in politics. I somehow believe this is a protection mechanism for the reader. The lavishness of the family harkens us to look in upon them, revealing no shame for us, while it also relieves us of any connection that would derive any empathy for the characters.

I read this novel unbelievably faster than normal. I was surprised because the mundane, mentioned above, threatened to tax my interest to the point of shelving this Book of the Month Club pick. But trusting something good was coming paid off. I think the psychologically thrilling aspects of the novel are worth it. It’s complicated, and it’s messy. Lasdun also has a tendency to overwrite in several places. But what’s genius about his writing is usually a big critique for other books. If you find yourself saying, I didn’t find the characters believable, I think Lasdun has succeeded. They are not meant to be believable, nor are we to really know if we see the real characters at any point within the novel. There are fractured moments where we can certainly believe they are being genuine, but for the most part, I think we were duped … in such a good way.

The Fall Guy is one of those slowburn novels. I read it thinking the entire time it was a 2.5 or 3 star book, but the more the completed work ruminates in my mind, the more I understand I’ve had a delectable weekend treat.

The End We Start From

This beautiful little book caught my eye with its stunning cover and colors. The End We Start From ends almost as quickly as it begins. It’s brief but lovely and rich. I adore when writers know how to skillfully say lots with little. Megan Hunter has done just that.

In a very timely apocalyptic scenario, London (and perhaps much of the UK) is flooded by rising seawaters, displacing millions and disrupting the normal life of the developed world into a struggle for survival. For me the terrifying undercurrent beneath the surface story is the speculative reality that could easily ensue in our own world. Hunter seems to call out our complacency for these types of stories and warnings: “How easily we have got used to it all, as though we knew what was coming all along” (68). Yet while there is an undertone of warning for us all, the story itself is not preachy. Nor does it look for answers to whatever may have caused the waters to rise. Instead it portrays the human condition that longs to persevere and remain.

The novel is eerily quiet, and it is the gaps between the paragraphs that seem to be filled with panic and worry — working towards diluting the individual characters into sketches that are more reminiscent of memories. The narrator shares with us that she used to take minutes at her job and it is halfway through the novel that we learn she is writing this account: “I want to write about the checkpoint quickly. Get it over with” (68). To me this explains the brevity, which I imagine will be the greatest complaint of many as they read this story. It’s almost as if the waters have washed and faded away all the details in between and left these more calcified details to hold the fragments of the story together.

Character names are simplified to letters, except the narrator who remains nameless. I didn’t quite understand this convention except that perhaps it is to keep everyone opaque enough to possibly be anyone, yet still distinguishable for narrative. There’s something that makes me wonder if there isn’t more to it, though. The narrator’s child is Z, the last letter –the omega– of the English alphabet, and this story is quite like the end times, though children are the promise of a future. There was a character, H, who traveled between an island and the mainland on a boat — if you look at the structure of “H,” it is two lines bridged. H’s wife was F, and they had two children. Looking at the structure of “F,” it has two lines coming off one major line.

I know I’m stretching, but as I said, I feel like perhaps the letters have more meaning than just being identifiers. I think names are important, so it’s interesting to me that they would fall away in this narrative. Because in most survival stories, while living day to day is the main plot, retaining a sense of self and identity also remain. “I do not know where I am … Where doesn’t seem to be the question anymore” (85), writes the narrator. The question seems to transition to what is home and how does identity derive from that?

Overall, I enjoyed this quick read. It is easily read in one sitting and it is accessible enough to want to read quickly. I’m always fascinated with societal decline storylines. I like to feel the suspense and terror observing the decay of our normalcy. The upswing, that is the struggle after the fall, is always less enjoyable for me; however, there’s not much to get bogged down in during The End We Start From. It’s atmospheric and reminiscent of the film adaptation of Children of Men. Hunter has dispensed with writing too much and instead has poetically woven an intricate and impactful story of survival in flashes of memory and tableaus. I look forward to picking this up again someday for a refreshing albeit haunting treat.

Favorite Passages from The End We Start From

It is bad, the news. Bad news as it always was, forever, but worse. More relevant. This is what you don’t want, we realize. What no one ever wanted: for the news to be relevant. (22)
— Good God, I would love to write something this striking and lovely.

We are told not to panic, the most panic-inducing instruction known to man. (60)

Landing. From water to land. From moon to earth … the beach is the in-between place. The world between worlds, a memory from a book read at bedtime. (102)

I left my job behind every day at five, as thy say. I peeled it off like a lining. V never stopped working I wonder what he does now, now that work is frozen in time. One hand held in the air, one leg lifting from the ground. (116)

Reunions come from television … the crush of shoulder against cheek under studio lights. … This is how it really is: seconds of almost nothing, edging readjustment to an old face. (126-127)

Divergent

I love an engrossing story. Who doesn’t, right? I really loved the first of Veronica Roth’s trilogy, Divergent. I have an affinity for dystopian novels, and it seems more and more that teenagers were created to be the pawns of our dystopian obstacle courses. As of late the teenage girl is serving more as this model. No complaints from me.

Whether it’s Katniss or as in this case, Tris, the coming of age story rises from the ashes of a broken world. In Divergent, Tris (short for Beatrice) must choose to devote the rest of her life to one of five factions in a very different Chicago. She has always been raised in abnegation (which values selflessness overall); however, her heart favors dauntless (valuing strength and bravery). But after a type of aptitude test serving to help one choose a faction, Tris discovers she does not fully align with any one faction. This makes her divergent — a dangerous trait.

The bulk of the novel focuses on Tris choosing her faction and then going through the initiation training. Throughout, Roth builds a political tension. The erudite faction (valuing knowledge) seeks to overthrow the power of abnegation, which acts as the political power for the city. This uprising quickly comes to fruition at the end of the novel and thus sets us up for the next two installments.

Divergent has elements of many great young adult novels, but it holds its own as being unique and authentic. Obviously it reminds me a good deal of The Hunger Games Trilogy, but it also has elements of Lowis Lowry’s The Giver, especially the sorting into different groups based on certain attributes an individual possesses (would Jonas have been considered divergent? hmm …)

I appreciate the complexity of what it means to be divergent, as well. What can be misunderstood as misfit/incomplete actually is more complete and belonging. Tris doesn’t fit solely into one category, but that’s something that should be celebrated. The fallacy of the factions resides in the assumption that these groups of people are the same. Tris’s mother explains the “danger” of divergents … and subsequently she pulls one of the greatest themes of the novel into her statement: “We can’t be confined to one way of thinking, and that terrifies our leaders. It means we can’t be controlled” (442). Control is very much what this novel is concerned with: control of destiny, control of fear, control of government, control of people, etc.

But going back to my earlier point, being divergent is exemplary of what it means to be complete. Divergents have attributes spread out across the values of each faction. One attribute cannot rule the others. They work together; they compliment one another.

Finally, I was very intrigued with the simulations that every initiate was put through. A constant phrase Tris repeats to herself as she goes through each simulation is It’s all in your mind. But she still feels fear and terror. She still feels immense pain and agony. This is such a good example of what we face in our own lives each day. Our own minds create these scenarios that torture us, whether they are our fears being relieved or a figment of our imagination. If we could only recognize that these fears our just in our mind, which ultimately gives us control and power over them — what could we possibly overcome?

I love that the divergents have the ability to manipulate the simulations. They recognize that they have power over the simulation versus it being the other way around. The simulations do not control them (they do at first, but the Ds eventually overcome them). Again, I really think that is a powerful lesson to hang on to from this novel.

I definitely recommend this novel. Roth has worked out an interesting dystopian world full of intriguing ideas and important lessons. Tris is an interesting character that grows steadily throughout the novel — an excellent choice for the narrator/protagonist.

Favorite Passages in Divergent

“I wish I could speak to him like I want to instead of like I’m supposed to.” (37)

“there might come a day when there is no flashlight, there is no gun, there is no guiding hand. And I want to be ready for it.” (138)

“My father used to say that sometimes the best way to help someone is just to be near them.” (191)

“We are not the same. but we are, somehow, one.” (223)

“Why do people want to pretend that death is sleep? It isn’t. It isn’t.” (303)

“That is death — shifting from ‘is’ to ‘was.'”(303)

“Human beings as a whole cannot be good for long before the bad creeps back in and poisons us again.” (441)

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

I typically don’t read very fast. But I read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda almost in one sitting. It took me back to the moments in (small-town South Georgia) high school when I knew it was time to come out. I can still remember uttering those words, heart pounding, to my two best friends, Kasey and Ame. And I remember being greeted with love and support from all my friends who were so glad that I finally decided to come out.

Anyway, this novel was so well done. I was giddy and on the edge of my seat at times trying to figure out who Blue could be. Sadly, I figured it out before the big reveal, but it was still nice. I love that this novel hammers home the importance of strong friendships and what a difference acceptance makes in the lives of gay youth.

I did think it was a little too magical that both Simon and “Blue” received almost universal acceptance — especially being set in the South. Actually it felt a little wishful when I was reading it. The story was good enough that I could over look it, but it was a little unbelievable that nonacceptance would only come from the peripheral.

Overall the novel is an excellent YA story that brilliantly captures the stress and pressure of coming out and coming into acceptance of oneself, to only then try to navigate the strange world of teen relationships. Looking forward to the movie adaptation.

Favorite Passages in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

He has an actual southern accent. Which is something you almost never hear in Atlanta, really.
— this struck me as very funny. When I first moved to Metro Atlanta, many of my friends pointed out my very southern accent. I would always retort with, “We’re in the south! What do you expect?” 😉

I mean, I feel secure in my masculinity, too. Being secure in your masculinity isn’t the same as being straight.
— Yes!! 100% yes!