Intensely dramatic. No wonder they made it into a film. 4/5.
The blurb: Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks 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 favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.
The blurb for The Girl with All the Gifts is purposefully vague. If you currently know nothing more about this book than what you’ve read here, I recommend you avoid the film trailers and go in blind. I’d already seen the trailer and read some reviews so I knew what I was getting into… which was a shame because I think it would have been even better to slowly realise what the heck was going on as the narrator drip-feeds us pieces of the puzzle.
So… the following will contain minor spoilers. If you want to go in blind, stop reading now!
I hope the film adaptation sticks close to the book because it already reads like a film. And by that I mean there is excellent alternation of heart-pumping action sequences and more reflective moments. It’s in these quieter scenes that we get to know the core group of characters and discover their motivations. Zombie/mass contagion stories (or at least the good ones) are never really about the zombies/disease. They’re about the survivors and how people react to and interact during high-stress, high-danger situations. If we don’t care about or believe in the characters, then we’re not going to keep reading to discover if they make it or not. Fortunately, all the characters in The Girl with All the Gifts are complex and, while none of them are “perfect”, they are all sympathetic in their own way. However, although the ensemble cast is strong, Melanie is the star of this particular show and she’s a wonderful leading lady who undergoes rapid and entirely convincing character growth during the short timescale covered by the narrative.
The writing is excellent. The descriptions are evocative but never laboured. The bleakest moments in The Girl with All the Gifts reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (possibly the bleakest and at the same time one of the best stories I’ve ever read) and the most stressful moments brought to mind scenes from The Walking Dead.
The book also contains an important ecological message, but thankfully it isn’t shoved down your throat or explained at length as if the reader were stupid. And I thought, by requiring the reader to think about and make up their own mind about exactly what the author might be trying to say, it made the message all the more powerful.
I liked the ending very very much. It was logical, brave and poetic all at once. Readers who like a happily ever after might be disappointed but then again, if you only like books with fairytale endings, this one probably wasn’t written with you in mind!
Overall: a well-written story which successfully interweaves thought-provoking and nail-biting scenes with some excellent characters and an interesting plot.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul