Sunday 2 February 2014

#CBR6 Book 10: "The Girl with All the Gifts" by M.R. Carey

Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

I'm actually going to use the Goodreads summary of this, because it's what made me want to read the book in the first place:

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 don't usually read horror, but I made an exception for this book, because the blurb made it sound so very intriguing and because I'm a huge fan of Mike Carey's other work. I can only assume he's writing under a new name because this is a different genre from the work he normally produces.

This was such a great book. It's told mainly from the point of view of Melanie, although the pop culture literate reader knows a lot more about the girl, her little school friends and their situation than the girl herself does, genius level IQ or not. Of course, having no real recollection of anything outside the cell where she lives, the school room and the weekly routines she experiences, it's not as if Melanie can be aware of her real situation. She's quickly draws new conclusions based on every additional piece of information she is given.

There aren't that many characters in the book. There are some chapters from the points of view of Miss Justineau, Helen, Melanie's favourite teacher, who is also a behavioural psychologist and there to observe the very special children and assist Dr. Caldwell in her research. She knows that she shouldn't get attached to her pupils, or invested in their futures, as none of them are likely to face a promising one.

Doctor Caroline Caldwell is driven to prove to the world at large that it was wrong that she was passed over when advanced research teams were sent out to find a cure for the rapidly spreading fungal infection turning people into mindless, hungry beast, and destroying civilisation as we know it. She has no scruples using any and all tools at her disposal to further her research.

Sergeant Eddie Parks and Private Kieran Gallagher are parts of the military personnel stationed at the research base to keep the scientists secure. They make sure the children are securely brought to class every day, to the shower rooms once a week, and to their weekly feedings. When all hell breaks loose, and the base is attacked, changing everything, these two soldiers need to assist in keeping the other three safe and get them back to any kind of secure location.

My main complaint with the book is probably that only Melanie and Helen Justineau really get fleshed out properly as characters. Caldwell, Parks and Gallagher are just a step or two up from stock characters - the evil scientist, the gruff commander, the naive and inexperienced rookie. Yet the story is so compelling, and Melanie and Helen are such wonderful characters that it doesn't detract much from my enjoyment of the book. Melanie's journey of self discovery and self realisation, the really very skillful depictions of the dystopian future after an apocalypse and the strong bonds of love that develop between Melanie and her beloved teacher are what makes it especially good. I suspect this is a book I'm going to be thinking back to for months to come.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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