Published by Orbit on June 10, 2014
Genres: Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction
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.
The Girl with All the Gifts might be my favorite book of 2014 (so far). It’s certainly in my top 5. Before I discuss the book, I have to discuss the synopsis. I feel like I’ve been complaining about synopses a lot recently, usually because they don’t reflect the tone of the book. This is probably the most egregious example. The synopsis is written as though a very young child with a very limited vocabulary is speaking. You would rightfully assume that the book would be written in this same manner, but you would be wrong. WHY do marketers do this? Are they intentionally trying to turn off readers? I heard about this book from somewhere other than Goodreads, and I’m sure I would never had chosen to read it if he synopsis was all I had to go on. The main character is a 10 year old girl named Melanie, and I could understand the desire to write the synopsis in a young voice IF the MC had that same voice in a first person narrative. But that is not the case here. Melanie is a very intelligent girl, and the narrative is written with an intelligent tone in the third person and doesn’t reflect her voice at all.
Sorry to go on and on about this, but I don’t want the odd choice for the synopsis to discourage anyone from reading the book. Because ALL of you should want to read The Girl with All the Gifts, and I’m going to do my best to tell you why. I’m going to keep it vague, because you need to discover the secrets of the book for yourself.
The story is set in a post-apocalyptic society in the U.K. Melanie and other children attend school classes, which seems normal enough on the surface, but it soon become apparent that something is not quite right, both with the children and with this school. We get hints of the nature of these differences early on, but it takes some time to learn what caused the apocalypse and how Melanie’s world reached this point.
Melanie has what could be called a childhood crush on her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau. Miss Justineau sees something in Melanie that stands out from the other children, and she can’t help responding to Melanie’s adoration, even though she tries to keep an emotional distance. Miss Justineau differs greatly from the other adults in Melanie’s life who treat her with apathy, at best, and shocking cruelty, at worst. It’s not hard to see why Melanie feels such affection for her teacher. The scenes between Melanie and Miss Justineau are heat-breaking. Melanie craves physical and emotional affection, just like every child deserves. But Miss Justineau can only do so much without risking her life and Melanie’s.
The Girl with All the Gifts starts out so strongly, and I thought that there was no way the story could maintain this pace. I was wrong, because the latter part of the book was even better. Melanie makes a decision at the end that has enormous implications. It affected me so much that it took a little while before I could even pick up another book. But was it the right decision? I think so, but that doesn’t mean that I was emotionally prepared for it.
Public service announcement: The Girl with All the Gifts is published by Orbit, a division of Hachette, the publisher that Amazon is battling. If you choose to buy this book (and you should!). think twice about buying from Amazon. Aside from the obvious reasons, Amazon is selling this at list price, along with a phony two to five week shipping delay. B&N, Powells, and possibly your local indie, too, are selling it for significantly less.
Note: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.