I chose to go into this book blind, knowing no more than the blurb on the back cover. However, in order to review it properly, I really need to reveal what this book is about. So if you don’t know already, beware!
The Girl With All The Gifts tells the story of ten-year-old Melanie, a seemingly normal young girl who loves school and books. She has a schoolgirl crush on her favourite teacher, Miss Justineau. But Melanie is not an ordinary schoolgirl. When she’s not attending classes and learning about the world, she spends most of her days cooped up in a small cell. She is only allowed to come out when restrained and held at gunpoint. And a doctor keeps taking her friends away to be dissected at the on-site laboratory.
As the reader begins the story, you can’t help but empathise with Melanie. This young girl seems so sweet, innocent and eager to learn about the world. But why is she being treated like a danger to others? Is she the enemy here, or is it the guards who keep her locked up?
I found the first portion of this book truly fascinating, I was dying to know how Melanie’s situation would be explained. M. R. Carey creates a bleak, institutionalised, dystopian world, where paranoia breeds around every corner and the reader doesn’t know who to trust. The author just keeps building layer and layer of intrigue and as you realise the truth it’s not a big, dramatic reveal, but a gradual, slow-burning realisation which some people may grasp more quickly than others. Yep, this is a book about zombies which never uses the word zombie.
The school is part of an army base, a science experiment in a stark world where most of civilisation has been taken over by a deadly fungus. The school children are all zombies – or hungries as they are referred to in this story – but unlike the blank, empty characters you’d expect, they can think and feel like human beings. Melanie is the most advanced of all of the children. That’s what makes her so special and why, one day, the on-site doctor Dr Caldwell chooses her as the next to be dissected.
And that’s where the story blows up, as the base is invaded and instead of dissecting Melanie, Dr Caldwell ends up escaping with her, along with three other members of staff – Miss Justineau Sergent Parks and Sergent Gallagher. As the unlikely group embark on the run, the story becomes more reminiscent of typical zombie stories – a kind of end-of-the-world road trip – and I’ve got to confess that I lost interest in parts. But this novel does not focus on the explicit fighting or gruesome creatures (although there’s plenty of that). It is a character-driven story, and it’s those complex characters that kept me reading.
At the heart of all the action is Melanie’s struggle to understand who she really is and her relationship with Miss Justineau. Miss Justineau is her favourite person in the world, but she can’t get close to her without turning into a monster. Miss Justineau does her best to be sympathetic to the little girl’s plight; she feels responsible for Melanie and understands that, whilst she has some unusual urges, she is in many other ways the same as any other little girl. Each of the characters has their own wishes and motivations, and it’s interesting to see them all battle out. I wanted to know who would win and what effect the outcome would have on their dystopian world. And, whilst the story dragged in parts along the way, the ending was truly unexpected.