I could review this book in one word – wow.
Seriously, it’s really, REALLY good.
I hadn’t heard about The Girl With All The Gifts before a friend said he thought I’d like it and another friend said she wanted to read it (who is now following my blog – hi Juliet! Let’s see if she’s paying attention). I know there’s also a film version which I’ve heard even less about (apparently rubbish according to friend-who-thought-I-would-like-the-book) so I’m not sure how both of these things have passed me by, but hey, whatever. They did. But I’m soooo glad that I finally found out about it and had the chance to read it.
If I had read the synopsis to this book I’m not sure that it would have appealed to me. Zombies take over the world and a motley crew of people (ish) have to battle their way back to the safe zone? Surely, I thought rather smugly, there’s only one way that this story can be told; it’s been done a thousand times before. Obviously there’ll be a journey, a few characters will die but the nice ones will make it and probably save the world at the same time. Boring.
Honestly, this is such a meaningful, heartfelt book. It’s sweet and clever and charming in ways I totally didn’t expect. It’s got diverse characters (a sexy black woman! A queer child!) and loads of action and suspense as well as complex relationships, friendships, maternal care… pretty much everything really. I’ve read that other people have likened it to Never Let Me Go and I can see the parallels (children being used by adults for research/scientific purposes) but in a weird way it reminded me more of Let the Right One In, in that it’s a classic horror premise but the focus of the writing is largely emotional.
However, I have to admit that I was genuinely scared in some parts. I’m a total wuss when it comes to horror and sometimes the tension and descriptions of the zombie hordes got to me. Like I said, I have a very low tolerance for these type of things. You’ll probably be fine.
I loved how cleverly written the story was. It’s incredibly well paced and I was utterly gripped from the start. It turns some of the generic horror tropes on their heads – the scientist trying to save the world is a horrible, awful person and I spent most of the book wanting them to die, the military guys are ok, the monsters are largely piteable, even in their zombiefied state. There’s some very touching scenes where a monster (Hungry) is seen sadly flipping through old photographs and another is pushing a pram. This humanising aspect added to the overall heartbreak and sense of desperation that the book created.
Ethically, the book raises a lot of questions. In the same way that Never Let Me Go is a total conundrum of progressive science vs “human” rights, The Girl With All The Gifts poses similar issues – except the “children’s” treatment is more visceral, more clinical and far more torturous – although for understandable reasons. I still don’t know whether I agree with everything that was done to them, but with such high stakes I can at least appreciate that there was a solid argument for the way they were treated.
At halfway through the book I could kind of see where it was headed, but there were enough twists and turns along the way to keep me guessing. The ending itself was so touching, awful and tragic that the small glimmer of hope left within it did little to initially make me feel anything other than total dejection. However, after reflecting on it for a few days, I feel a tiny bit better about the whole thing. I can’t say much more than that without giving the game away but it’s safe to say that it’s not your typical, neatly tied up in a bow, yay for humanity situation. From a purely literary perspective it’s a fantastic idea that cleverly mirrors the story of Pandora’s Box – a story which is told to the children earlier on.
Overall, I thought this was a fantastic book. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a fast paced, engaging horror/dystopian fantasy book that you can really sink your teeth into (you’ll get that joke when you’ve read it).
I read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #11 Read a book by an author with a pseudonym.