“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 keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair.”
“The Girl with All the Gifts” is one of those books that are better the less you know about it. One of those books that slowly unveils its story and lets the reader uncover its world and secrets along with the protagonist. In this case, that person is a 10-year old girl named Melanie who lives a very odd life, but doesn’t question it much… at first.
It’s quite difficult to review a book without even talking about the story’s basic premise, but I genuinely believe that knowing as little as possible about the “The Girl with All the Gifts” is the very best way to read it. So, I won’t tell you even the littlest bit about it.
Except that I heard about it from Joss Whedon (of Buffy and Firefly fame), whom I adore and that the book’s cover has an endorsement from my all-time favourite horror author John Ajvide Lindqvist.
That I’ve read numerous books that fall within the same genre(s) as “The Girl with All the Gifts”, and while it is not completely innovative within those genres, its buildup and especially ending have elevated it to several heights above 95% of those other books.
That there are some tropes and cliches of the genre – parts of the story line that sometimes ends up teetering on the edge of “just another (bliiiip) book”. And a few of those “no one would actually do that!” moments, a handful of the “how is that even possible?” and a smidgen of “wow, that was convenient!”.
But that mostly, “The Girl with All the Gifts” manages to steer relatively clear of the worst pitfalls.
That Carey, despite being a debut novelist, has a knack for creating absurd and glaringly harsh situations, while still getting the reader to feel both compassion and sympathy for even the most unlikely characters. At the same time, he has managed to not have any obvious heroes or even ‘good guys’, but rather multifaceted, real people, who are ambiguous and unsure about what is happening to them and their world.
And that… you should just read this book. Especially if you like a different take on overused genres, and like to be surprised… and a little scared.
The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey; published by Orbit in January 2014