Sunday, July 13, 2014

All the Evils of the World and One Little Girl

The Girl With All the Gifts
Written by M. R. Carey
Published by Orbit
4 Out of 5 Stars

When Joss Whedon says, "read this," I heed the call.

Only 10 years old, Melanie is brimming with curiosity about the world and unabashedly enthusiastic about school. Blessed with a genius intellect, a kind heart, and a love of mythology, it's easy to fall in love with the precocious protagonist of The Girl With All the Gifts. However, despite these gifts, the world is very afraid of Melanie--every morning, two armed guards arrive at her cell, strap her by the legs, arms, and neck to a wheelchair, and escort her to her classroom. This is fine with Melanie as it's the only world she's ever known and as long as her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau, is there, Melanie has everything she needs. It's not until the outside world comes crashing in and Melanie is saved by Miss Justineau that she learns how truly dangerous she is to others . . . and to herself.

I'm working hard here to avoid spoilers as most of the enjoyment of The Girl With All the Gifts comes from the fact that M.R. Carey plays his cards close to the vest during the first fourth of the novel. It's also obvious that the publishing company went to great lengths to keep the secret with that awful cover and perplexing title. To be honest, had I known what the book was about I would have never bought it because this genre isn't my bag, baby. I go out of my way to avoid it and it's hard for me to express how much I detest this genre, both in literary and movie form. Still, despite my strong bias against it, I enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts immensely.

Part of the reason as to why I was able to lose myself in a book I'm hardwired to hate is that, despite there being some of the obvious genre tropes, there are plenty of inventive twists. Carey has developed a believable world, complete with a devastating history and scientific origin for the tragic events that unfold (I really appreciate that there is a "why" offered instead of going with a "who-cares-how-it-just-did-so-let's-move-on-to-the-awesome-stuff" explanation). 

The other reason I enjoyed it is because of the strong characterization of Melanie and her ability to constantly adapt as the world she knew crumbles around her. The novel's title is a reference to Melanie's favorite myth, that of Pandora, whose name means "all gifts." Melanie is a mystery to herself and, as she begins to open the box of who she is, she finds both the capacity for terrifying evil, but also for strength and resilience. The other main characters (Helen Justineau, Sergeant Eddie Parks, Dr. Caroline Caldwell, and Private Kieran Gallagher) are given depth by the same moral duality and by pasts that haunt them as they move into an uncertain future.

The quick narrative pacing and the inventive spin on a tired genre make The Girl With All the Gifts well worth a read.

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