>> Saturday, February 14, 2015
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.
The Girl With All the Gifts is a groundbreaking thriller, emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end.
When I posted my favourite books of 2014 a few weeks ago, several people whose tastes tend to be similar to mine shared their own top reads. The Girl With All the Gifts featured in several people's choices. Turns out my book club had just chosen it for our January read, and even though I couldn't make this meeting (I was in London having dinner and rhapsodising about the Vorkosigan saga with CD instead! *g*), I read the book anyway. And I was wowed!
The book starts with a little girl called Melanie. Melanie lives in a cell and knows about the world she lives in only through what she learns in class. She knows the place where she and the other children in her class live is surrounded by "Hungries", but she's never seen them. She knows about flowers and animals and the population of Birmingham, but she's never seen any of these either. All she remembers is her current existence, spending most of her time in her cell, except for when she's wheeled out, limbs and head strapped to the chair, to class or to the weekly feeding. It's an existence where she's never, ever touched.
We, of course, know that Melanie and her classmates are Hungries themselves, but of a different kind from the mindless, lumbering majority. And when things happen and Melanie's world widens, we find out a whole lot more about what's out there.
And that is all I will say about the plot, because the originality of this book makes it all the more enjoyable. I find that more and more, I really like reading books and having absolutely no idea where they are going. I still like the certainty of romance novels, but these days I crave unpredictability. But it has to be unpredictability with all characters behaving like real human beings, where the motivations make sense. If you get your unpredictability from making characters behave in unbelievable ways, you've lost me. Carey never lost me.
Melanie felt real, as did the people who become her companions. Dr. Caldwell is a driven doctor, determined to understand the infection that turns people into hungries if it's the last thing she does (and no matter whom she needs to sacrifice or endanger). Miss Justineau, Melanie's beloved teacher, is idealistic and moral, but in a way that sometimes leads her to act in self-destructive ways. Sergeant Parks is determined to keep those around him safe, and just as determined to see Melanie as a monster. And Private Kieran Gallagher is just heartbreakingly young.
It's an incredibly compelling, compulsive read. It can be tough, it can be tender, it's always surprising. And the ending was one of the most brilliant endings I've ever read. It makes complete sense, and it was still a surprise. And the way it brings things full circle feels strangely satisfying. I know it won't work for everyone (one of my friends at book club hated it), but to me, it felt just right. It felt like it was actually a happy ending, of sorts. The world itself has been redefined, why not happy endings too?
MY GRADE: An A-.