The Girl With All the Gifts
Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel Nominee
James Herbert Award Nominee
I never read the back copy of the book I’m starting.
Of course I would do it if I were just picking a book off the shelf and deciding if it’s worth buying, but for this challenge the award committees/judges/fans have previously vetted the book. Back cover copy can sell a book — that is actually its job, after all — but I’ve found it can also trigger my prejudices. I want to go in without any judgment beyond what I can see from the cover.
This drives my son insane. He’s taken to reading the back and asking me probing questions to see if he can spoil me.
“Do you know what Melanie is yet?”
Melanie is the ten-year old protagonist of The Girl with All the Gifts. It’s clear from page one she’s heartbreakingly brilliant. She has a deep crush on one of her teachers, Miss Justineau. When we first meet Melanie, she’s locked in a cell. In order to attend the class of the teacher she so adores, Melanie has to be strapped into a wheelchair at gunpoint, the same as all the other students.
When she jokes to the sergeant and his men that she won’t bite, they don’t laugh.
That’s the first clue. Some people might get it in one, but I didn’t know for sure what Melanie was for several chapters. It was very, very obvious that so many things about Melanie’s life were creepy and wrong. Classmates from nearby cells got wheeled away somewhere beyond the grim, industrial hallway and never came back. One time, when the sergeant discovers that Miss Justineau has carefully unstrapped a single arm of each student to allow them to touch and smell spring flowers from outside, he sticks his bare flesh in front of one of the kids, making the kid drool and snap and grunt hungrily like an animal shown raw meat to remind them what they really are.
Carey does such a beautiful job painting the picture of this place that, even though you may have already guessed or it’s been spoiled for you by other means, I don’t want to say what Melanie is. I don’t want to tell you partly because, for me, the heartbreak of this book is that, no matter what you discover about her or what’s happened to the world she lives in, Melanie is Melanie. She’s a little girl who craves a loving touch, is fond of Greek Myths — particularly Pandora — and wants sparkly pink unicorn pants.
The amazing part of this book is that, despite the dark and lurching grimness of it all, there is, just like what is left in Pandora’s box at the very end after all the monsters are let out: