Book: The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey
Reviewer: Beth P.
Age/Genre: Adult/ SciFi Dystopian
Preferred Reading Environment: In the quiet time of night, when you have the room to yourself.
Reading Accoutrements: A hot earl gray tea with a splash of brandy. Fortune cookies for snacking on.
Content Notes: This is not your typical ‘feel good’ story.
I picked up The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R Carey because someone told me it had zombies in it, and then it seemed like I was hearing about this book everywhere. However, the synopsis doesn’t really mention zombies:
“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. 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.”
This book absolutely trashed every preconceived notion I initially had. And what I got instead was unexpected, but absolutely enjoyable. The higher thinking in the book is tempered by a wide range of emotions and psychology. The characters were well fleshed out and made for a unique yet cohesive dynamic. The zombies were set apart from your John Romero Night of the Living Dead zombies, but they weren’t made so unique that you need to mock their creation. And lastly, the ending that you expect- or even several endings you could theorize, will not match the actual ending- which was delightfully apropos and really anchored me as a huge fan of this novel.
The main character, Melanie, was such a relatable but fascinating character. Her innocence and hope in the presence of such a dark and stagnant world was like a breath of fresh air. I spent the whole time reading this book on the edge of my seat morbidly wondering when her hope was going to be snuffed out.
The secondary characters like Miss Justineau and Gallagher showed a jaded outlook tempered by a mostly suppressed hope that maybe someday things would be different.
The antagonists – both Sargent Parks as well as Doctor Caldwell – were not evil for the sake of evil, nor were they particularly good human beings either. Their particular brand of deeply flawed and messed up was such a mirrored counterpoint to Melanie that it was both beautiful and fascinating to watch Melanie’s Interactions with both characters.
This was not the longest book I’ve ever read, neither by novel length or story time frame. Instead you have a well-edited book with necessary but interesting scenes and a situation that had such a ticking clock on it that you were kept engaged the entire time without wondering if you can skip a scene because you’re bored to tears.
Now, my personal favorite part of a book isn’t necessarily the story itself, nor the unique and unforgettable characters. Stories have been all about teaching lessons from the dawn of time. So what I absolutely love is what is underneath the words – the cultural keynotes, the predictive indications of a nearby future, and the lessons and warnings to be heeded.
Titles carry their own power when it comes to a good story. They can indicate what you’ll find inside the pages (Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonrider), or even distract you from the real main character (David Wong’s John Dies At the End), or be used to educate you (1001 Uses for common herbs and weeds from your garden), or sometimes, when the author is particularly clever, the title is used to make you think.
The Girl With All The Gifts is a title that sets the stage for this story from the moment you start reading it and it carries though until the end. You’ll find yourself regularly thinking about the title – examining the words and turning them over as the story unfolds to show the various meanings and situations the title could mean. Even now, having finished the book, I couldn’t really tell you what the words mean. Maybe Melanie is a genius, maybe Miss Justineau is all about kindness, maybe Dr Caldwell is the best in all the world when it comes to her scientific discoveries. And yet… you can’t help but think of different ways the words can apply to the story.
One of the most prevalent themes of the book revolves around a philosophical argument: the dichotomy of human nature. The book is rife with examples: nature vs nurture, civilization vs barbarism, military vs civilian culture, animal instincts vs learned logic. Even the characters themselves are written in a way to make you question their core personality. Melanie, despite her childish innocence and hope, is the most dangerous of the group. Dr Caldwell, who appears the most helpless with her injuries, is the most monstrous. Gallagher, a trained soldier, is in reality a sheltered coward. Sargent Parks, with his horrific appearance and personality, has an almost infallible integrity. And Miss Justineau, despite seeming so kind and selfless, has the darkest secret in her past.
All good things must come to an end. This was especially true for this book. The ending of the book is my favorite part. While I am usually the kind of person who wants an author to write a 30 book series with open ends that never let that literary world die, I enjoyed the ending of this book so much that I hope that there is never a sequel. (There is a PREquel that I’ve started reading though.) I can honestly say that I didn’t see the ending of this book coming, which is high praise considering the amount of story endings I’ve read and successfully predicted through the years. And I can’t really say that the ending is ‘happy,’ but Melanie’s story itself is resolved.
I think that the ending could be very polarizing, and some people may actually hate the ending and thus the book itself will be ruined for them. One could even make an argument that the ending defines the story as a tragedy. However, if Melanie is the main character of this story, her definition of ‘happiness’ morphs the ending into no-longer-a-tragedy. Regardless of whether you like tragedies or can wrap your head around the situation to see the glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel, I think that some people will have a hard time accepting the ending as a ‘happily ever after.’ Personally, I think of the ending like the rebirth of a Phoenix. It’s ashy and messy and full of death – but with some time to grow, it’s going to be something beautiful and amazing.
If you like books that make you think and question, this is such a sublime read. I plan on reading it multiple times because I feel like every time I read it, I’m going to find more and more interesting hidden gems for me to ruminate on. What’s the last book that made you think about deeper issues? Let us know in the comments!