The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

The Girl with All the GiftsThe Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Girl With All the Gifts was both more and less than I had expected.
I first became aware of this novel months ago through a seemingly huge promo campaign labeling it the next “big” thing. Because it was labeled a sci/fi thriller, not my favorite genre, I ignored the hype for awhile.
Anyway, I eventually picked up the audio version of The Girl with All the Gifts, and was very pleasantly surprised to be drawn in immediately by the character of Melanie, a little girl living in a post-apocalyptic version of our world.
Melanie has no memory beyond her current situation, where she is locked in solitary confinement in an army/prison complex. Each morning, soldiers with guns tie Melanie to a wheelchair, and she is transported to a classroom. There along with fellow “students,” she receives an education. The world Melanie learns about is the reader’s world, the world before the apocalyptic “breakdown” of the novel, when hungries, a mutant life form, invaded and destroyed humanity.
As the novel begins, the reader knows a little, but like Melanie, we’ve also got a million questions. Why is Melanie tied up, fed once a week, handled like she is dangerous? What exists beyond her cell and the classroom?
All too soon, a catastrophic event occurs that will start to unravel Melanie’s insular world, and she, along with four other people, will share an adventure that will reveal the deepest character in each of them.
The other important characters, whose perspective the reader is privy to, include Miss Justineau, Melanie’s beautiful, gentle teacher, and the subject of a childish crush. A polar opposite to Miss Justineau is Dr. Caldwell, a scientist with laser focus to find a cure for the hungry plague. And accompanying these women, we have Sergeant Eddie Parks, a burned out but experienced soldier, and Private Gallagher, a brand new recruit who has joined the danger of the army to escape the danger of an abusive, alcoholic, family.
What I really loved about The Girl with All the Gifts was the exploration of character. The novel was much more than just a bright series of explosions and gunshots. All five main characters were unique individuals, and their reactions to a disaster scenario were fascinating and thought provoking.
The Girl with All the Gifts made me think a lot about what I would do in case of a major disaster. Mostly, this was in a fascinated, slightly frightened, “what if” kind of way, but the novel also spurred me on to be more informed about disaster preparedness.
On that note, the second thing I really enjoyed about the story was M.R. Carey’s world building. His depiction of how a bio-terrorism disaster of world-wide proportions would play out was logical and well-thought out. The world of the novel was bleak and terrifying, but also, utterly absorbing.
So the strongest parts of the novel for me were the characters themselves and the world they found themselves in.
The reason I didn’t give The Girl with All the Gifts five stars is that somehow, it didn’t achieve the impact that I felt primed for (after all the amazing character development and world building). I’m not sure quite why this was, because I did find the ending somewhat satisfying. Or at least, the ending was original, and logical within the framework of the story.
But I found the second half of the book, which was a bit more about survivalist action, less interesting than the setup. I also felt sad about the way the story ended, even though it made narrative sense. And finally, despite all the big scientific language that Dr. Caldwell used as she, against all odds, attempted to explain the mystery of the hungries, I found the her final explanation to be a disappointment.
Ultimately, this story began with an amazing idea, and I think, will stay with me and continue to make me think. I recommend The Girl with All the Gifts to anyone who enjoys apocalyptic novels with great characters and plot. This novel may not have fully realized it’s potential, but it is still, to me, one of the standout novels of 2014.

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