Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”
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.
Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad. (Goodreads)
The Girl With All The Gifts had sat on my TBR list for well over year. It was not due to the fact that I didn’t enjoy it, but the fact that other books kept pushing it down. So when I found out that M R Carey was appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, it was enough to give me the kick in the rear end that I needed.
I have to say that all the positive praise that this book got was more than well received. This book should be held up to all aspiring writers as a prime example of a practically perfect dystopian science fiction book. Yet, at the heart of it are its characters because without them this book could have so easily been the generic dystopian survival novel.
Carey takes us on a journey, shown mainly from a ten year old girl named Melanie. She is the lynch pin of the novel and after the fall of the army research base she was living in, her survival is really important to Dr Caldwell as she feels that Melanie is the key to a cure for a disease that is turning everyone into flesh eating “hungeries” or zombies. Along with Dr Caldwell there is also Sergeant Parks, who makes it his responsibility to protect the small party on their journey to Beacon, where the main research facility is. We also have Melanie’s teacher, Miss. Justineau and Private Gallagher making up the small group.
The overall arc of the book is very much your typical road journey in a world that has gone to pot. As the book progress, it looks more and more like this small group are the only humans left in the world. Not only are they trying to keep under the radar of the “hungeries” they are also trying to avoid the “Junkers” who are scavengers. So they are outnumbered, have no communication anyone back at base and dwindling supplies.
The conclusion of this book took me a bit by surprise but on retrospect, there was no other way that the book could really have a truly satisfactory ending. I can’t say any more because it would give away what was special about the book.
As I said earlier, the characters are what make this book different and it is all down to Carey as writer. Surprisingly, rather than have a true villain or characters who you spent your time hoping they would get their comeuppance due to their actions, I could empathise with each character and their motivations for the things that they do during the book. Though some actions are questionable, I understood that this was not the world that I was living in and that right and wrong no longer had the same meaning.
While the adults were either looking for redemption or validation, Melanie was on a journey of self-discovery. While she is a child at many times during the book, you could see that she was much more and showed a maturity that should not be possible due to the way in which she has been living. She grasps the gravity of the situations the group faces much quicker than the adults and though one decision she makes later in the book could be the catalyst for a few of the catastrophic outcomes, you get why she does this.
The book is well worth the read and as I closed it, I was left with a feeling that the world has changed and been reborn.
The Girl With All The Gifts truly deserves the praise it has received and I am kicking myself that I didn’t read this book sooner. Once you start this book, you will find it difficult to put down as you are drawn so deeply into this group of characters journey. You want them to make it to Beacon and with each obstical, you will them on even as the odds become slimmer; you get to know them so well.
This is definitely a book that I would recommend to any fan of dystipian fiction and especially anyone who watches The Walking Dead or has played The Last of Us. This is character driven fiction at its best.
OTHER BOOKS BY M. R. CAREY