My first completed read of 2017 was The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey. It was a title that caught my eye on Amazon, described as a sensational thriller and having the outer appearance of a unique dystopian, it seemed right up my street. I was expecting a story about a girl with superhuman powers or 'gifts' and after reading the extract on Goodreads...
"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."
...I imagined something similar to the Netflix series 'Stranger Things'. What I realised fairly early on was that this wasn't a novel about a child with desirable powers at all. In fact quite the opposite, what's different about Melanie is somewhat a problem for her. And for those around her.
It's difficult to review this book without giving too much away. I won't include any spoilers in this review but there's quite a 'big reveal' at the beginning which then shapes the rest of the story. I'd stay away from Goodreads if you don't want to know what it is. It's safe to say the author and publishers went to great lengths not to reveal the book's main theme/genre by the confusing title and cover. Melanie is a smart 10 year old. Innocent at first, thoughtful and a fast learner. But she's different and dangerous. The story starts at an army base where Melanie and children just like her are being kept locked away in individual cells. Five times a week they have lessons in the classroom and once a week they visit the shower room where they are fed and showered. Every child is strapped to a wheelchair and escorted between rooms by armed personnel.
The plot builds quickly and kept my interest all the way through. I aimed to read a few chapters every night, which turned into 5 or 6 chapters because I needed to know what happened next! I finished this one in 11 days. That's fairly quick for me personally, it's a weighty book and I usually only read before bed. The beginning and end were particularly grabbing with a small lull in the middle where the plot line became a bit expected.
We follow a group of five main characters who have strong opposing views and much to their disdain, find themselves having to stick together to survive. The plot follows the characters on their journey and flicks between different viewpoints whilst maintaining a 3rd person narrative. There are characters to like and characters to hate. And there are the ones who grow on you. Of course, Melanie is the star of this story and her kind-hearted nature and determination to care for others, especially her favourite teacher Miss Justineau, make her instantly likable.
There's adventure and action. There are quieter moments and uneasy moments but a beautiful message entwined throughout the whole novel. I'd definitely recommend adding The Girl with All the Gifts to your reading list but be warned, it might not be what you were expecting.
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