End Date: May 28th
Author: M.R. Carey
Pages: 460 (paperback)
Selected By: BillMo
“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 Parks 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 favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.” – from the Goodreads summary.
I thought that this book was okay, but I did like it. I definitely liked the Rot and Ruin series better than this one. Our girl with all the gifts, Melanie, had an infatuation with Helen Justineau which would make you think that maybe Justineau would be a winning character, but in the end that was a big hell no, and I feel like that particular character certainly got everything she deserved by the end – I’m going to let you think on that and not get too into it, but just know… she gets exactly what she deserves. And it’s nearly poetic. By the end I also could understand Dr. Caldwell, though I still didn’t like her, but I could at least understand her by the end. Justineau, on the other hand, just kind of made me angry.
Kieran Gallagher had some issues, but he was just a dumb kid who had great aspirations (insert sarcasm here). I think it’s funny that in the modern world you have all these great occupations to aspire to but in a post apocalyptic world these things would change. I think that this is true and liked the point of view. *****SPOILER ALERT***** >>> Mr. Gallagher found porno magazines and was going to rent them out. Yep that is what the world would probably come to. I’m so proud (sarcasm) of our little entrepreneur. I thought this was hilarious though (no sarcasm). <<< *****END SPOILER*****
I wanted to like or hate the characters more than I did. I couldn’t love or hate Melanie either. She makes a terrible decision later that disappoints me. While the story did peter out a bit in the end, I did like the twist in the story at the end and can honestly say I didn’t expect it.
I liked that once Melanie figured out Sergeant’s real name it made him less scary to her. I think that this can be true for a lot of people. If you can put a face or name to something it makes it real and able to be destroyed….okay that may be a little dramatic. It can be…….destroyed.
I liked that this author used the zombie ant thing to start the disease. It’s a nice change from bio-hazard waste.
I did think it was a little nauseating how Melanie drooled over Justineau. It was a little sweet at the beginning but it got old fast. I also don’t much appreciate the fact that Melanie made some serious decisions just on her own that maybe should have been shared with the collective.
My deep thought to draw from this book is that no matter who you are or where you come from, there is a little monster in all of us. Second deep thought: Mmmmmm brains……..nom nom nom stinky flesh….mmmmmmm.
BillMo’s Favorite Character(s): Sergeant Parks. It’s unbelievable, since at the very beginning I didn’t think I’d like him, but he really improved as the story went along.
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
I got through this selection pretty quickly despite being terribly bored with it and mostly annoyed. I have so little to say this time, I am struggling to put this into a serious review beyond saying that it sucked.
First, we are in a post zombie apocalypse state. If the author is building to us knowing what occurred to cause this state, there isn’t even a hint as to the event or events leading to the current state. In fact, he was so vague with the current environment that it did nothing to peak my interest, but caused me to hover in a state of disinterest. He did so much to build the suspense as to the danger the children presented and the environment in which they lived of isolation and the like that, that I just couldn’t bring myself to care how we got to this point or why children were being treated as they were.
Now, what is even more aggravating to me about this novel is the cast of characters. We have the uber empathetic Ms. Justineau, as the teacher makes mistake after mistake in this novel. We have the soldier who is hyper-focused and actually, I can understand that in this time in Parks. However, despite his behavior initially in the book that made me dislike him, as the world “develops”, we see this is probably the best or most logical behavior for the circumstances. We also have, what I feel to be, the useless ridiculous dogmatic focus of the scientist, Dr. Caldwell and the obligatory young and dumb soldier in Gallagher. First, are you telling me that the government is so collapsed that they do not do any psychological testing on these people to ensure that the human race will be best served by those who are “studying” these children? Because, clearly, as the story develops, the ineptitude and inadequacy of each of these characters is just astounding. I can truly say, I was wishing every last one of them dead (ok, except for Sgt. Parks). I should not be so remiss as to discount the main character, Melanie.
There is nothing astounding about this child. She is approximately six or so years of age (sic – she’s actually ten, GML), prone to fanciful thought, which isn’t uncommon in a child of that age. However, considering the time this occurs, it makes no sense. She was a feral child initially and slowly “domesticated” while in the confines of the compound. I understand that the children’s minds have been molded to be accepting vessels for psychological testing purposes, just as their bodies are meant for physical/scientific purposes. However, Melanie has taken to fanciful thought in what appears to be less than a year’s time (sic – while a feral, Melanie is Subject One and has no memory of any life other than that within the compound, which means she must have already been there for a number of years prior to the beginning of the book, especially considering the scientists are well into the double-digits on other existing young “patients” – GML). I am unclear as to how you go from having absolutely no personal connection to being wrapped up in fantasy about your teacher. While the author describes it as a crush, I would say the more apt description is hero worship with a heaping of mommy issues.
We are introduced to technically three villains, but I can really say there are two. In fact, there is also the question of whether or not one of the groups is actually a villain. In my opinion, we should lump the Hungry in with the feral children. These children are just a variation of the Hungry. However, it is clear they have more of their faculties about them, causing them to be cunning and apt hunters in this new world. However, the Hungry’s are the typical zombies we see in pretty much every other medium, but leaning toward the World War Z fast moving zombies who’s sole purpose is just eating. Then there are Junkers, survivalists who have turned the Hungry’s into weapons or vanguard in attacks against the last of the living people in Britain. There are two scenes with them and neither does much for me to completely convince me that they are nothing more than scavengers who use any means necessary to obtain food, shelter and some measure of security. I would imagine, when you are probably prey, you take the stance of go on the offensive to save yourself. However, we are told so little of this world and who were saved vice who were left to fend for themselves, I’m making a very uninformed assumptions.
It is hard to say that the story went downhill once the maudlin company escaped the attack of the Junkers at their compound, as it didn’t start off very well. However, you take Justineau, Melanie, Caldwell, Parks and Gallagher and we get a useless band of misfits endeavoring to get to a major stronghold, it’s doomed for failure from the word go. As the story progresses, we move ever closer to a big fat nothing. If there is a sequel to this book, I surely would not be reading it. It was sorely disappointing. The fact that this has a film adaptation disturbs me even more and the casting is the exact opposite of what the author made a huge deal of annoyed me even more.
If you haven’t purchased it, or borrowed it from the library, save yourself the time and money and just let this one go.
Esbe’s Favorite Character(s): No one.
Lady Esbe read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
I initially gave this a two-cup rating, because I was toggling between one (didn’t like it) and two (it was okay), but the more we discussed it at our meeting and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, in the end, no, I really didn’t care for it all that much and cannot in all honesty recommend it to others. There are better zombie books out there – Rot & Ruin, World War Z, and The Passage series, just to name a few – and this one just falls so short when compared to those.
Long story short, I was not a fan of this particular novel, and if they’re thinking of turning it into a series I know at least one person who won’t be reading it. And we discussed the upcoming movie during our Gigglemug meeting, and I can tell you right now I won’t be watching it – not in the theater, and probably not for free dollars when it hits the movie networks, either.
Short story long, with the ongoing success of AMC’s Walking Dead series, we’re being constantly bombarded with zombie-themed media these days. And for the most part, it’s all the same: some virus or contaminant is introduced that wipes out a majority of the human species, civilization crumbles, and a few ragtag survivors are forced to eke out an existence while being continuously reminded that humans, when in our natural state (i.e., sans weapons and technology), are firmly fixed on one of the bottom rungs of the food chain. There will always be some super-secret government faction. There will always be some super-secret laboratory faction. And there will always be some ultra-violent group of opportunists just waiting to sweep in and destroy everything for a few canned goods and as many females as they can snatch up and drag off to their hideout.
That being said, for the most part The Girl with all the Gifts doesn’t offer much new material. The characters are fairly predictable, cookie-cutter versions of what you’d expect: we’ve got the ultra-idealist, the ultra-militant survivalist, the ultra-focused doctor, and the ultra-naive young person who gets in over their head. The baddies are also standard fare for the genre: mindless zombies called hungries, not-so-mindless zombie-like things called ferals, and the aforementioned quintessential opportunists. Mr. Carey does offer a couple of original ideas, however: first, there is Melanie, and second is the source of the outbreak and ongoing infection.
Melanie is an anomaly among the population of hungries in that she is clearly self-aware and able to form strong emotional attachments with humans, despite the fact that these same humans are actually her preferred form of sustenance. She’s interesting for about half of the book in that she does display such a strong series of emotions towards the one person who has shown her any true kindness, and she willingly puts herself at risk to protect that individual – a rare display of affection which goes against the nature of a creature that is supposed to really just be a voracious eating and infection-spreading machine. *****ATTENTION!!! MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!!!!***** >>> But as the story goes along, it turns out she’s not actually all that anomalous after all – there are similar beings out there who have formed close family units and clearly feel intense emotions such as rage and sorrow, who mourn and feel a need for vengeance, and who clearly utilize cognitive reasoning skills… and they have developed these relationships, emotions, and skills all on their own, without ever needing the assistance of a Helen Justineau or the meddling of a Dr. Caldwell. As with humans, this is just their nature, and, as with humans, they seem to view killing their own as verboten – they are, it is later found, simply an adaptation. Nature has forced a massive reboot, and Melanie’s “kind” are the evolutionary answer that will allow some form of humans to exist, despite the inhospitable world that has grown around them. <<< *****END SPOILER*****
Unlike BillMo, I didn’t necessarily find Melanie’s love for her teacher, Miss Justineau, entirely “nauseating,” but I did find it a bit tragic on the part of the child and pathetic on the part of the adult. Justineau had to have been vetted for the program in which she begins the story, and I’m sure they had to have had some sort of psychological testing prior to sending her out there into the middle of no where to work on these little test subjects. Not only that, but she had to have known what the program was for which she had been selected, which takes away any “innocence” the author may try to convey about her on the page. This woman went to that program – for whatever reason, she went there knowing full-well what was to be expected of her. And while she didn’t necessarily throw a party each time a child – a child with a name and an identity of his or her own – was wheeled away from her classroom towards Dr. Caldwell’s lab, she surely allowed it all to continue to go on with little more than a bit of mumbling and grumbling… until her pet was taken away from her. Melanie loves Justineau with the all-encompassing love a child has for its primary caregiver; Justineau has shown her kindness in a short life that has contained nothing but deprivation. But Justineau gave me the impression that she loves Melanie precisely because Melanie can convey to her that she loves her – that’s not selfless, it’s not heroic, and it’s not innocent or sweet… it’s disgusting and selfish.
While I didn’t care much for Dr. Caldwell as a character, I did like the question her existence (and the existence of every “cold-hearted” doctor in every horror novel like this) poses within the story. She and she alone has the greatest responsibility of all – not just to the program but to the entire human race as a whole: this one woman is tasked with finding a solution to the zombie problem, a cure or a way to stop its spread. All of the better-qualified men and women before her are gone – she is, literally, humanity’s last answer. If she fails, it’s over… for all of us. Now, take that knowledge and combine it with the fact that even modern surgeons cannot risk getting too close to their patients, cannot think of them by name and consider their families and friends and hopes and dreams, because if they do they simply cannot do their jobs without going insane. See where I’m going here? Caldwell as a doctor made sense to me: her patients are not and cannot be children to her, they are the means to an end, the secret she has to unlock by any means necessary in order to save her species. Caldwell as a person, however, was entirely unlikable to me: rather than making her like most doctors I’ve known – humans with feelings and emotions of their own who make a conscious effort, one with which they sometimes struggle, to block out what they have to in order to perform a necessary task – Carey completely dehumanizes her and turns her into a single-minded mad scientist who seems to get at least a few kicks hacking up little kids.
The source of the “contagion” was actually really interesting to me… initially. Very early on it’s explained that the cause of the entire outbreak was an entomopathogen called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis which evolved just enough to be a very real and very severe threat to humans. There’s actually a really interesting documentary narrated by Sir David Attenborough called Cordyceps which covers a lot of the stranger versions of insect-related fungi, including Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, and I’d seen this prior to reading The Girl with All the Gifts (and was thrilled when it was actually referenced as a quick way to explain the fungus in this novel). In this novel, the infection mutates and spreads like wildfire to quickly reduce the world as we know it to a pile of junk decorated with spores, surrounded by weird fungus-trees, and peopled with humans whose brains have been reduced to so much fluff. It was with the entrance of the fungus-trees and spore-walls that my interest in the infection waned and drifted into the realm of silliness, but it was an otherwise novel approach. (And if you really want to get an idea of how funky the real fungus is, I cannot recommend the above-referenced documentary enough. Mother Earth is so much cleverer and weirder than we can ever begin to imagine.)
To be perfectly honest, I found the addition of the “junkers” – the opportunists of Carey’s world – to be a bit unnecessary. In other, more successful zombie-related novels, shows, and video games, the humans who resort to attacking other humans do so for a purpose, and the threat of their existence is often felt and made known long before they appear in the flesh – it’s a cloud of dread that grows on the horizon, and all you can do is barrel straight towards it and hope for the best. One of the best things about modern zombie tales is that the zombies themselves are actually part of the environment – they’re mindless predators and nothing more; meanwhile, the real danger is one’s fellow (hu)Man, whose motives are purely self-serving, whose sense of survival is stronger than their sense of compassion, whose only purpose is to take whatever you have and, if you’re lucky, leave you with nothing but your life and the clothes on your back. To use two of the more well-known zombie-genre villains as examples: Negan and the Governor are threatening because they are human and their choices go against what we today believe to be “good” or “right” – they manipulate, they threaten, they use charisma and the strength of their numbers to subdue others and subject them to their wills and whims, and, when that fails, they go straight for the jugular with the sort of full-on, sadistic violence which only another human is capable of. Carey’s junkers are mentioned in passing, and then suddenly they explode all over every page for an entire chapter with a rather weak explanation that comes to little more than, “Oh, yeah, we made ’em mad the other day, so here they are…” Then they’re gone again – poof – having served no purpose other than to force our merry band of travelers together and out onto the road. They then disappear entirely until – poof – they appear again, literally flit past, and are gone… never to be seen again. You could have removed the junkers entirely and inserted anything else, no matter how absurd, into that mix and still had the same outcome: a pack of wolves could have run through the compound; a swarm of pissed-off killer bees could have exploded out of the forest; a stampede of unicorns could have ripped a hole through the fabric of reality, shit rainbows made of fluoroantimonic acid all over the complex, and then burst into glitter. It would have all ended with the same outcome, and it would have all had the same amount of impact as the “junkers” themselves – a moment of, “Huh?” and then… nothing.
Which is really probably the best way to describe the way the book ended, as well: huh?, and then… nothing. Actually, that describes the entire book for me, really. It had some interesting elements, like the fungus, and it had a couple of brief scenes I quite liked (for those of you who’ve read it, for me these were the scenes containing the woman with the stroller and the man with the photographs), but other than that…
Huh? And then… nothing.
Elle’s Favorite Character(s): Initially, no one at all. By the end, I could sort of understand Sergeant Parks a bit more than the rest, but to say that I liked him would be a bit of a stretch. But for a majority of the last half of the novel, he did at least bring some logic and rational thinking to the story, which was a breath of fresh air when you consider that the remainder of the company was either skipping through la-la land or in pure denial about their situation.
Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.