Published by Orbit Books on June 10, 2014
Genres: adult, science fiction
Amazon • Indiebound • Barnes & Noble • Goodreads
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is a sensational thriller, perfect for fans of Stephen King, Justin Cronin and Neil Gaiman.
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 favourite teacher all the things she'll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn't know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.
This is the story of a girl, locked in a room, who is strapped into a chair every morning while a man holds a gun to her head. She’s wheeled into a classroom in which there are other kids strapped into chairs just like hers, where a woman teaches them lessons that they will probably never need to learn.
The Girl with All the Gifts is difficult to review, because it’s one of those stories that’s best enjoyed if you know next to nothing about it. It isn’t necessarily difficult to figure out what’s going on, but the meticulously crafted narrative is a pleasure to experience every step of the way, particularly in the beginning chapters inside 10-year-old Melanie’s head, when the author allows the reader to put together pieces of a puzzle that Melanie herself doesn’t even know exists. It’s brilliant writing that pulls off the trick of a somewhat unreliable heroine, featuring indelible characters ranging from the clinical Dr. Caldwell to the no-nonsense Sergeant to the protective Miss Justineau. Each of them has agency, and a role to play in a world that becomes increasingly violent and increasingly hard to understand.
The Girl with All the Gifts is a fantastic combination of:
the scrupulously researched medical thriller aspects of Mira Grant’s Deadline +
the queer, feral curiosity of a child who’s not what she seems, like Octavia Butler’s Fledgling +
the wandering survival aspects of The Reapers are the Angels and its badass heroine Temple +
the dichtomy of high-functioning/degenerate beings in Warm Bodies +
the poignant, impossible need in Let the Right One In.
But it has a scary pathogen (based on fungus that actually exists, so let that one steep in your nightmares), distinctly drawn characters and touching relationships, and an unexpected and AWESOME ending of its own. Seriously, it’s one of those endings that has you hopping with excitement, not only for the sheer ballsiness of it, but for how much it makes sense. I can’t say any more for fear of spoiling it, but once you read this thing–and you WILL read it, won’t you?–please come flail with me over it! I need more people to discuss this book with.
I also appreciated that, despite the enormous amounts of medical and scientific research that clearly went into this novel, facts and figures are seamlessly incorporated into the story in a way that makes all of it not only very easy to understand, but fascinating as well. If you’re someone who loves reading about experimentation, dissection, or human eco-theory, this book will be like catnip. But even if you’re not, the human elements of the story, as well as the exciting action sequences, occasional gore, and engrossing plot, will keep those pages turning.
Post-apocalyptic fiction is at its best when a story is a microcosm of the world at large. Where are we headed as a free-thinking civilization? What becomes of us if society breaks down? My favorite books in this genre have indirectly tackled philosophical questions and themes in ways that are sometimes thrilling, sometimes devastating, and sometimes sad, and this one does all three.
I’ve read over 100 books so far this year, and a lot of them have been terrific–but The Girl with All the Gifts is my first 5 star read of 2014. And I know it’s a book I’ll revisit again and again in the years to come.
Curious about the book? Read sample chapters on Orbit Books’ website.
Note: This is Mike Carey‘s debut under this pseudonym. It’s unfortunate that the Amazon-Hachette dispute means that it’s difficult to get this title through them, but this book is well worth seeking out at independent bookstores through Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, or The Book Depository. And for those excited by the Newsflesh comparison, Mira Grant/Seanan Maguire confirmed she is a HUGE fan of this book as well!
And for YA readers: if you enjoyed Dan Wells’ Partials, you should give this one a go.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review. Special thanks to Ellen, the wonderful Orbit publicist who is always so patient with my constantly forgetting to request titles and send review links, and sends me books she thinks I’ll like anyway. She was spot-on with this one.