Author: M.R. Carey
Genre: horror, zombies
Source: I got this book for free at Book Expo America in for a review. This in no way affects my rating or thoughts.
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.
"She's lived in Plato's cave, staring at the shadows on the wall. Now she's been turned around to face the fire."
The Girl With All the Gifts is a weird, disturbing, creepy, and fun book. It somehow manages to be both thoughtful and gory, without overdoing either. It has a story that manages to freak you out while making you think about human nature and humanity in general. M.R. Carey refuses to do what you expect and this odd and satisfying post-apocalyptic gem is the result. Pandora may have opened the box that let the darkness out, but M.R. Carey explores the shadows of humanity so well it was worth it.
The best way to read The Girl With All the Gifts is with an open mind. In daytime. The blurb is small and bland for a reason. The author has a lot to cover with the four hundred pages of the novel and he puts on one hell of a show for the duration if you have the patience for the story to build. But, if you must have a spoilerish comparison: It felt like reading Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go mashed up with Mira Grant's Parasite. It's not all action-packed or hungry gorging, but also a thoughtful and philosophical exploration of people. Carey has an even hand with all of that and with the steady characterization of Parks, Justineau, Gallagher, and Melanie. It's a lot to juggle with any kind of satisfaction, but Carey manages it with aplomb and finesse.
After everything, it's hard to discuss the finer points of the novel for the reasons stated in the previous paragraph. I would hate to spoil anything of the total effect and atmosphere that The Girl With All the Gifts carries. So that makes it hard to to register my few complaints. The first was that the villain was slightly too one-dimensional to be entirely believable or for my taste and that what would the food source be now that Melanie has turned everyone into hungries? How will there be a full second generation or third if there is no food? Besides those small issues, I was overjoyed with the unconventional routes that Carey continued to take with his story up until the very end.
The Girl With All the Gifts is a near-perfect novel. I loved it from the beginning until the end; I wanted to know what happened and I simultaneously never wanted to stop reading. The characters are complex and often unlikeable, the story is bleak and still compelling, the ending is unexpected and totally authentic. A very enthusiastic and happy 4.5 stars.