M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts starts with a mystery and a slow building of tension before, unexpectedly shifting into another kind of novel altogether. Even more so than usual, this is a difficult novel to review without giving away key plot points and reveals. M.R. Carey is approaching a familiar and well-worn genre from a new perspective and part of Carey’s method is to initially obscure and mislead the reader about precisely which genre that is. Eventually that will become common knowledge, and if I’m honest, I had an inkling before I started, but this book is built around this reveal and achieves it quite well, even when the reader knows it is coming.
Melanie is a special little girl, gifted and dangerous in ways that are not initially clear. She is kept a prisoner and taken to and from classes. She dreams about the outside world. Carey draws the reader immediately into Melanie’s world, her perspective and creates a growing sense of unease, of secrets, and unspoken sadness. Once her secrets are revealed the story takes a turn into outright horror and post apocalyptic zombies, and the narrative opens up into other viewpoints.
The Girl With All the Gifts is a tightly crafted novel. The characters feel real and have an unexpected depth. At the heart of the story is Melanie’s relationship with her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau, which is touching. Indeed, the entire novel has moments that are unexpectedly poignant and heartfelt. Likewise, Carey has thought through the world, the science, and even the genre conventions, and if, in the end The Girl With All the Gifts does not quite escape those conventions, Carey succeeds in making them feel fresh. An unexpected gem.
**Received copy from NetGalley for review