Melanie lives in the bunker and knows very little of what exists outside the little world of her cell, showers, and classroom. She spends most days studying math, science, literature, and history while locked in a wheelchair–the only bright spot in her days being when her teacher is Miss Justineau. She doesn’t know a different life so her limited experience is not strange to her. There are times, however, when she is curious about the outside world and the secrets those at the bunker are obviously keeping from her.
Unfortunately for them all, Melanie will have the opportunity to discover them.
The Girl With All the Gifts is an action-packed, popular Sci-Fi novel in the vein of Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter or Wayward Pines series. These books are emphatically not thoughtful, character-driven novels. They’re plot-driven, high concept rushes–perfect for movie or TV series adaptations and people needing an engaging, quick read (i.e. they’re great reading slump busters). None of that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes you need fluff with teeth. I certainly did when I picked up this book.
M. R. Carey (a.k.a. Mike Carey of comic book writing fame) never lets us readers take a breath or forget the high stakes in The Girl With All the Gifts. You know the very lives of Melanie, Miss Justineau, and their companions are on the line as things go from bad to worse at the bunker and you’re waiting for something truly awful to happen to them. In that respect, you might be disappointed. There’s not *quite* so much death and mayhem here as you might like (okay, I might like), but what Carey’s novel lacks in excessive blood and gore, it makes up for in the mounting terror that infects each of the characters. The most frightening aspects of The Girl With All the Gifts aren’t violent but rather psychological because, while the writing is reminiscent of Blake Crouch, the story is cousin to Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and Childhood’s End.
What I liked most about the novel was watching Melanie’s limited experience of the world widen. As she learns more about humanity and what happened to the England outside of her cell, it’s fascinating to see how she deals with the logical ramifications of her knew knowledge. Melanie might be a child, but she is fearless in the face of mounting danger and is a genius who is able to extrapolate truths from the facts she learns from her companions. Both of those things make her dangerous–both to her enemies and possibly even to her friends.
While Melanie’s story in The Girl With All the Gifts is thoroughly entertaining and frightening, it doesn’t quite make for the perfect action juggernaut. There are plot holes and the characters’ depth is shallow at best (most notably with the onenote villain). The plot maybe relentless, but the first act is a slow enough burn that it’s difficult to get through if you don’t already know where the story is going. None of this makes the book unreadable. It just makes it no shocker that I struggled through the first 150 pages but read the remaining 250 in one day. There are obviously worse faults to have, but I don’t think The Girl With All the Gifts is a book I’ll reread because of them.
If you like thrilling Sci-Fi/Horror or are looking for a book to break you out of that reading slump, definitely give The Girl With All the Gifts a chance. It’s not a perfect read, but it will wrap you up in it’s chilly embrace and refuse to let go.
Do you have any books you’d recommend to end a reading slump?