“Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”. It’s the oldest saying in literature. In most instances, it’s used to persuade someone to “dig a little deeper” before throwing a book to the wayside. In my case, it’s the complete opposite.
The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey tells the story of Melanie, a 10-year old girl-genius living in a cell inside of a facility she’s never seen the outside of. She’s only ever taken from her cell for two reasons: for school or for a shower. When taken from her cell, she is strapped to a wheelchair, unable to move her head, arms or legs until returned; the only thing to free her from monotony is her favorite teacher, Ms. Justineau. She reads them stories about Pandora’s Box or titans, while her other teachers get drunk or do nothing. Melanie loves Ms. Justineau.
The story is set in post-apocalyptic England. The country has been overrun by cannibalistic beings called “hungries”, most of which have lost all sentience. Most of. It was discovered that the disease affects children’s brains differently, leaving said children both sentient and hungry. When it collapsed, a facility was built in the outermost parts of the country to test and search for a cure for the pandemic. The facility holds these “special” children captive, including the Girl with all the gifts, but what happens when that facility breaks down?
The Girl with All the Gifts is a very misleading title. When I first heard the title and read the synopsis, it sounded as though it would be a story about a girl with superpowers. I was disappointed to find out that the main character had no superpowers and that the title was actually from the story of Pandora’s Box, but instead of throwing in the towel, I kept reading.
Throughout the first part of the book, I was captivated. The storytelling was great. What’s more interesting than kids being held captive in a facility, harvested for their brains so a scientist could attempt to find out what made them the way they were? Carey’s writing is fun and energetic, switching flawlessly from character to character (three of them) while creating emotional ties to each one. And then the “breakdown” happened.
The second portion of the book was much less thrilling. Without spoiling too much, the facility is eventually overtaken and the hungry children escape. Ms. Justineau develops an almost motherly, but mostly humane relationship with Melanie, so the two work together to escape the compound. Joining them are two soldiers and the facilities main scientist. At this point, the story could have gone many ways, but what eventually ensues is your basic, run-of-the-mill zombie survival story. Four complete strangers with one goal: reach a major city to find other survivors; there were points throughout that I thought I was reading The Walking Dead season one.
To go along with a bland storyline, Carey’s writing begins to falter. Not that his writing is poor, it’s far from it, but it tends to feel as though the book was written in two or three different sections and at different periods of time. It has been noted that The Girl with All the Gifts was first a short story called Iphigenia in Aulis and an attempt at a movie script was made, which makes sense because the book does read in a very cinematic way. In the first section of the book (before the fall), Carey goes to great lengths to bring Melanie and Ms. Justineau to life. In the second half, with all of the narrative switches, we learn very little about the scientist, Caldwell, and almost nothing about the two soldiers and the focus becomes primarily the locations they take refuge. There is very little to keep the reader interested.
There was one aspect of the story that I was impressed with. In The Girl with All the Gifts people are turned into hungries because of a fungal infection called Cordyceps, and it’s transmitted through blood and saliva. The explanation of the fungus is only described in detail towards the end, but when it is finally described, it’s described in full. Carey did a fantastic job of creating a completely original zombie pandemic that was both believable and frightening; if only the entire story could have been so.
While I didn’t enjoy much of this novel, I have to give Carey credit. He got me to read a book about something I dislike very much: zombies. While the science behind the hungries was interesting and original, the overall storyline and choppy writing aren’t solid enough to elicit recommendation. If there is one thing to take away from this novel, it’s to not judge a book by it’s cover.
Rating: 5 out of 10. To be fair, I’m not a big fan of zombie apocalypse stories. The Girl with All the Gifts starts strong and plateaus far too early. If you’re a fan of zombies and the apocalypse maybe check out the short story first. Read at your own risk.
*I received this eBook via Netgalley*