The Girl With All the Gifts
by M. R. Carey
This is one of those books for which five stars simply isn't enough.
Once upon a time, a girl with skin as white as snow and hair as bright as gold slept in a stone cell and dreamed of a world outside.
Each day, Melanie wakes up in her cell, sprayed down with disinfectant, strapped into a wheelchair, wheeled by a nervous soldier into class, where she learns algebra and the kings and queens of England and the populations of cities and the old myths, of Prometheus and Icarus, of Pandora, the girl with all the gifts. Melanie knows that the Breakdown has altered the world; she knows that beyond the barricades, the cities have fallen and the hungries wait mindlessly for human prey, but she still imagines someday leaving the confines of her cell and her corridor; of, as she thinks,
“Like Pandora, opening the great big box of the world and not being afraid, not even caring whether what's inside is good or bad. Because it's both. Everything is always both.
But you have to open it to find out."
The Girl with all the Gifts is a truly outstanding story, a captivating premise, an imaginative yet believable future, poignant, abruptly shifting from heartwarming to heartrending. The story is narrated in third person from several characters' points of view, and although it is told in third person, each voice is distinct, with its own cadence and viewpoint. Some have a charming, self-deprecating, darkly humorous edge; for example:
"This man came to Wainwright House with something trivial like bursitis and -- as many people do -- experienced complications while he was being treated. In this case, the complications were that the hungries feasted on his flesh and made him one of them."
The most glorious and gut-wrenching moments are from the perspective of Melanie. The writing style is in the present tense, simple but articulate, charged with all of the wonder and innocence and faith that only a child’s voice can contain. The contrast between the world that Melanie glories in and the dystopia that the reader absorbs through her eyes makes the world even more vivid and heartbreaking and bittersweet. The reader sees a hopeless, post-apocalyptic world of blood and fear, of cruelty and slim hope for a future. Melanie knows about what the world was and what it is now, yet she still sees wonder and beauty and possibility everywhere; in a flower, in the sky, in the proof of infinite primes. The book is adorned with lovely little moments of childish insight, articulated with a naive simplicity and clarity:
"When your dreams come true, your true has moved. You've already stopped being the person who had the dreams, so it feels more like a weird echo of something that already happened to you a long time ago."
Melanie’s very innocence adds another layer of uncertainty; is she the frail hope to be rescued from the depths of the box of all evils, or a mixed blessing, holding in her hands both tremendous danger yet burgeoning hope for a darkening world? Or is she Pandora herself, destined to open the box and release humanity’s fate upon the world? There are so many complex underpinnings, so much symbolism, that the book is still haunting me.(show spoiler)
The nature of the book makes it impossible to summarize without spoilers, so I’ll simply add that whatever you imagine the book to be, I think that it will defy and surpass your expectations.
**NOTE: Quotations are taken from an uncorrected digital galley and are therefore provisional. Quotes will be corrected when the book is released.**
~~I received this ebook through NetGalley from the publisher, Hachette Book Group (Orbit), in exchange for my honest review. Thank you! ~~