An ad on Facebook using Joss Whedon’s praise for The Girl with All the Gifts got me on board for this novel, not knowing much of anything about the type of book it was. Joss liked it. That was enough.
And he did not steer me wrong. Like much of Joss’s work, The Girl with All the Gifts plays with a familiar genre, twisting what we think we know of it. All those assumptions we make of the story’s and character’s forms are smudged and redrawn by Michael Carey. But as with Cabin in the Woods, the Whedon co-written horror-comedy film, the less you know going in, the better. So I’ll try to keep only to the publisher’s book description and spoil no more.
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 favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.
The title comes from a repeated allusion to Pandora, a girl who was given all the gifts by the gods, but got with it the curiosity that pushed her to let loose all the evils of the world. Melanie is gifted in both mental and physical ways, but her gifts are pricey.
Girl is a sci-fi mystery/thriller, and does share some broad qualities with those genres, even as it bucks particular tropes. It has the science fiction tendencies of dystopian setting and philosophical themes grappling with the biggest of questions, in this case, what makes us human as opposed to monster. Like other mystery/thrillers, it has secrets to reveal as it goes and the teasing of those secrets creates tension and suspense. There are even a couple authentically white-knuckle moments.
Unfortunately, to talk about how Carey redraws the lines of the genre would be to delve deeply into spoiler territory. You’ll have to discover that for yourself.
Despite the innovations of genre, the characters remain somewhat shallow throughout, standing in as types or even carriers of a particular philosophy in the face of their particular situation, but despite that they are empathetic and engaging. Each thinks she is doing to right thing to help humanity; each thinks she is the hero.
I didn’t see the ending coming. It was the kind of ending that both surprised and made perfect sense. No easy task to pull off.
I would recommend The Girl with All the Gifts to fans of Neil Gaiman, Joss (of course), and John Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In.