Rating: 5 out of 5
M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts confirms my notion that sometimes the best books are the hardest to review. I’m not even all that sure how I’m going to review this book without giving too much away, or failing to impress upon you just how freaking good it is. I picked it up almost randomly off of a sale shelf at the book store. I just knew that some of the people quoted on the cover were ones whose taste I trusted (it was the Joss Whedon quote that did it), because the entirety of the back cover text was:
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.
When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.
That’s it. That’s the whole of the information they give you. No genre. No real hints. It made it hard to decide for sure that I wanted to try the books, but hey, it was on sale, and displayed between books that interested me.
SPOILER WARNING: I’ll do my best to reveal as little as possible, but there’s no way to review a book like this without letting slip a few details.
I didn’t realize this was going to be a zombie apocalypse tale and bio-thriller. While I happen to be fascinated by the genre, obviously not everyone is. I think that even if zombies aren’t your cup of tea, you should consider giving this tale a read.
Ten-year-old Melanie is (more or less) our main character, and while I don’t often read books with such young protagonists, It worked incredibly well in The Girl With All The Gifts. She isn’t the only point-of-view character. The teacher she has a crush on, Miss Justineau; irascible Sergeant Parks; naive Private Gallagher; and the scientist Caldwell all have large roles to play. The soldiers fear Melanie and her classmates. Miss Justineau, along with her fellow teachers, are there to see how well the children learn and reason, and Melanie is their resident genius. (Unlike the other teachers, Miss J seems to care about the children as children.) So far that seems to make Melanie all the less likely to disappear–something that happens to one or two children here and there, but is never talked about. And Caldwell is the scientist studying the physical characteristics of the children. She’s more than happy to spend her time dissecting brains, but she is legitimately trying to figure out why the children–who were infected by a type of fungus–don’t have symptoms that match up with the great majority of the fungus-infected ‘hungries’.
The base all these characters live on (this is set in Britain, by the way, not too far from London) is attacked by “Junkers”–groups of survivalists who will kill whomever they have to in order to survive and thrive. They’ve found a way to disguise their scents from the hungries, and they’ve also figured out how to drive the hungries to overwhelm the base’s defenses. Soon the above characters are trying to make their way back to Beacon, a bastion of survivors. Along the way they have to worry about Junkers, hungries, lack of supplies–and whether or not Melanie might try to eat them one of these nights.
The details build up incredibly smoothly, making the gradual accrual of plot knowledge absolutely chilling, but also painfully heart-warming in places. The narrative is highly visual; I felt like I could see clearly everything that came along. I love the gradual realization that Miss J’s attempt to teach Melanie through subjects like Greek Mythology, poems, and whatever else she could get her hands on has left Melanie with some unusual assumptions and beliefs.
All I’ll say about later parts of the book is just… surprises. Additional levels of plotting. Seeing characters at their best and their worst. (Very well-developed characters, I should add, of the kind that start out as an archetype and build from there.) The pacing is so taut I couldn’t put the book down.
I absolutely loved The Girl With All The Gifts, and plan to push a few of my favorite readers into reading it for themselves.