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.
I have long been familiar with Carey’s comics work – mainly the amazing Lucifer and The Unwritten, both of which I am addicted to. It took me a long time to get around to reading this novel, though, for reasons I cannot quite figure out. Long-time readers of the blog will know I’m a fan of certain types of post-apocalyptic-zombie novels. The Girl With All the Gifts is absolutely brilliant, and one of this year’s Must Reads. I loved it.
This is easily one of my favourite novels for quite some time. (This year has already had some stellar titles.) Certainly, this is something to be celebrated and shouted from the rooftops. However, because of how much I liked it, I find myself struggling to find the best way to approach this review. It’s a novel peppered with revelations throughout, and we only get to know Melanie (and her secret) and the others gradually, as the story progresses. To go into too much detail would ruin the reading experience, I think. So, I shall keep this very brief.
Carey does a wonderful job with the emotional components of the story, and there were a number of gut-punches while I read – not to mention the quite drastic, tragic ending. Melanie is a wonderful creation. She is innocent, yet also hyper-intelligent. She is smitten with Miss Justineau, the only teacher who seems to treat her and the other children as, well, children. Rather than experiment subjects. Justineau is likewise an engaging an interesting character.
After a surprise attack on the base, Melanie, Miss Justineau, Dr. Caldwell and two soldiers set out for the capital of this now-devastated and depopulated Britain. Along the way, our protagonists will bond, survive close shaves with hordes of zombies, and discover a lot about themselves. Our preconceptions of some of these characters evolve, as they prove us wrong, offering up far more depth and nuance to what can at the start appear predictable. (Specifically, the Sergeant.) Carey is able to surprise and tug on our heartstrings with equal skill.
Equally as fascinating as the character development (which is fantastic in itself) is the development and growing understanding we get of the “zombie” condition. There are plenty of great suspenseful and ‘quieter’ moments, mixed in with some heart-stopping action and tense flights from peril.
Carey’s prose is fantastic: fluid, gripping, and pretty much perfectly composed. I couldn’t stop reading this, and frequently stayed up well into the wee hours of the morning (even on a work night). I wish there had been so much more of it. If ever a stand-alone novel left me desperately wanting more, it was this one.
Very highly recommended, this is easily one of the best of the year, and also one of the best in the genre. A must-read.