It seems I’m off to a rocky start with reading this year, so I’ll just tell it like it is. The Girl with All the Gifts is overrated.
With as few spoilers as possible, here’s the plot: edge-of-apocalypse zombie outbreak + super-smart zombie girl with a human conscience. Add to this an emotionally compromised psychiatrist, her inhumane superior, and two soldiers. This motley crew try to get to Beacon – a coastal city where they might find safety, and have some nasty experiences along the way.
This isn’t an awful book. It’s salvageable, and in places it might even be called ‘good’, but the gulf between what this novel promises and what it delivers is a sizeable one.
I am not a zombie novel connoisseur, I confess, but The Girl with All the Gifts has too many flaws to blame it all on the genre.
The secondary characters are, as a collective, boring. True, the author has given diversity a good go, but it all falls a bit flat.For example, Miss Justineau, the protagonist Melanie’s teacher (and vessel for mummy issues), is a smart, feisty black woman who loves Melanie and has an unhappy past. This is pretty much what she starts out as, and also how she winds up. In striving to create interesting characters, Carey seems to have focused entirely on the characters’ pre-established personalities, neglecting their evolution, development, and growth.
Also, the characters in this book are so stupid. Doctor Caldwell, Miss Justineau and Melanie are portrayed as highly intelligent people, except every time they ever do anything!
Caldwell: now that’s a cool zombie, why don’t I go take a closer look…?
Justineau: I’m sure no one but Melanie will be interested by this signal flare which I’m going to launch, showing everyone everywhere that I’m living human flesh, and I’m here!
Melanie: hmm… so the smell of skin makes me ravenously hungry. Could it be that I am… a zombie?
Give. Me. Strength.
And then there is the coup de grace which seals this novel’s fate. The ending, in which every character behaves out of character, Caldwell becomes the stereotype to end all stereotypes, and the big surprise twist left me saying ‘eh?’
The saddest thing is that this book could have been great. For all its flaws, the premise is fascinating. A child monster coming to terms with her identity, and yearning to be loved, is a story that could go in so many directions. The child in question, Melanie, is the best character in the novel, and strong in her own right, but the extent to which her supporting cast let her down makes redemption impossible.
The writing isn’t too bad either, and I did enjoy some of the chemistry between the massively conflicting characters, but ultimately The Girl with All the Gifts is a half-cooked egg. Split the outer layer, and inside there’s not much but gloop.