The Girl With All the Gifts
by M.R. Carey
403pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.3/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.1/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.91/5

The Girl with All the Gifts is a stand alone post-apocalyptic/horror thriller by M. R. Carey. The author has also written graphic novels in the X-Men and Fantastic Four series, the Lucifer graphic novels, and the Felix Castor series as Mike Carey.

Ten-year-old Melanie lives in a cell. On weekday mornings, she sees the adults walk through the halls and soon after that one of them bangs on the door, signaling it’s time to get ready to go to the classroom. Melanie dresses herself, then quietly sits in the wheelchair in her cell and waits for them to come in to take her to class. Eventually, the door opens and Sergeant aims a gun at her while two others strap her wrists, arms, and neck to the chair. They are especially cautious when securing her neck, and they do not find it amusing when Melanie jokes that she won’t bite.

Once she’s strapped in so she can’t move, Melanie is brought to the classroom and greeted by the teacher, who calls each child by name since the bound children are unable to see the others as they enter. She is happy whenever Miss Justineau is the teacher for the day. Miss Justineau is the kindest, most beautiful woman in the world, and her classes are the most fun. Sometimes she reads them Greek myths, and Melanie loves these stories about a world she’s never seen, having known only her cell and the classroom. There’s a thick door at the end of the hall opposite the classroom, but it makes Melanie feel safe since it keeps the hungries out. Even though it would be scary, she would like to see what it’s like beyond the door someday. She wonders if she’ll get to see outside when she’s grown up, and one day she gathers her courage and asks Miss Justineau if she’ll still have to stay with the army when she’s all grown up or if she’ll be allowed to leave. Her favorite teacher doesn’t answer—she just looks like she’s going to cry or be angry or throw up. Then she does something no one has ever done before and touches Melanie’s hair, but Sergeant makes her stop and says she’s breaking all the rules.

No one gets close to these children.

The beginning of The Girl with All the Gifts hooked me immediately, and I picked it up despite knowing it was a zombie book due to this opening and numerous rave reviews. After reading the first few chapters, I was sure I was going to love it—the setup and Melanie’s voice are very well done—but it ended up too much like a typical zombie story for my taste even if it did present a different take on this concept. Soon after the revelation about what is going on with Melanie and the other children, it turns to a plot packed with traveling, close calls with hungries, and occasional mysterious encounters showing the strange behavior of some zombies. While there is also some focus on the main cast of characters, many of whom are vaguely interesting or sympathetic, they don’t have quite enough depth to carry the rest of the novel through what I considered to be a dull plotline.

The best part of The Girl with All the Gifts is Melanie herself. Melanie is very well written as a young, precocious girl who loves learning. Through her perspective, she seems like a very cheerful, innocent child, and this contrasts sharply with the treatment she receives from those around her. Clearly, there is more to Melanie and these children than it would appear, and the best part of the book is the way this is shown through Melanie’s everyday life. Getting a glimpse into Melanie’s routine sets up an interesting mystery, and it’s easy to want to see her in better circumstances from the beginning. Her cell and the classroom are all she’s ever known so she doesn’t dwell on her terrible circumstances—they’re perfectly ordinary to her—but her situation is terribly sad even though (or perhaps because) she does seem so carefree and happy in spite of them.

The other major characters also seemed intriguing in the beginning, if not as original or well characterized as Melanie: Miss Justineau, Melanie’s favorite teacher and the only person who is kind to her; Sergeant, who makes sure everyone stays in line and follows the rules; and Dr. Caldwell, a scientist who occasionally comes to take away a child for testing. Each of these characters (as well as one other who wasn’t as major or memorable) is a point of view character in addition to Melanie. Most of them are not shallow characters and a couple of them do undergo some character growth, but even the best of them didn’t have quite enough dimension to seem more like living, breathing people than caricatures. Miss Justineau seems to primarily serve as the moral compass of the group, Sergeant is the survivor, and Dr. Caldwell is an outright stereotypical cold-hearted scientist. The one who changes the most throughout the story is Sergeant, making him the most interesting character, and Miss Justineau is the most likable as a woman who fiercely stands up for her beliefs.

Once the core group gets together after the mystery of the role of Melanie and the children has been revealed, the story moves on to a related but different mystery: the reason Melanie is special. At this point, much of the novel is focused on finding these answers and survival, and I just didn’t enjoy this part of the book nearly as much as Melanie’s daily life and observations. The traveling and near-encounters with zombies seemed to move rather slowly, and it wasn’t until toward the end that the book seemed to be going somewhere again. The ending tied in very well with some foreshadowing in the beginning, but I also felt it was trite since it reminded me of conclusions in other books I’ve read.

The Girl With All the Gifts was excellent—toward the beginning of the book. After the story changed direction later, I felt it was too similar to a typical zombie novel and I don’t generally enjoy those types of tales (although I do seem to be in the minority even among those who are not normally zombie fans so you may want to take my opinion on this one with a grain of salt!). The characters didn’t have quite enough depth to keep me interested once the plot started to drag, and I ended up feeling indifferent toward the book by the time I finished reading it despite its strong start.

My Rating: 5/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

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