What do I say about this book without spoiling one of its best A-HA! moments? This particular moment comes fairly early in the book and if you know what particular horror sub-genre this title falls under, it's fairly well telegraphed in advance. But I'm sure there are still people out there who could possibly go blindly into this title knowing only the very miniscule information given in the very short synopsis provided by the publisher.
So, you know what? Let me just go ahead and issue a BIG ASS SPOILER WARNING EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY. Read this review, or don't. Your call, but consider yourself warned.
SPOILERS HERE ON OUT
OK, so this is a zombie book. And given that there's been lengths taken to protect that information, this is a spoiler. The titular girl with all the gifts is Melanie, whose home is an underground cell in a military complex charged with finding a cure for the zombie plague that has felled mankind. After the base comes under attack, Melanie is forced to flee with her teacher, the base's lead doctor, and two soldiers. Cue up the bad-ass zombie road trip.
The Girl With All The Gifts is a perfectly fine story, but not one that entirely clicked for me. I liked it well enough, but I kept expecting it to deliver more than I was getting. The premise is unique enough, unless you've played The Last Of Us, in which case you've seen some of this before to a certain degree, and I liked that this particular road trip strikes out across the UK. Zombie America Books are a dime a dozen, so it's refreshing to not have New York or Los Angeles under assault, and to get to spend time in a locale where they have boots and bonnets instead of trunks and hoods on their cars.
My main complaint is that The Girl With All The Gifts feels like a lot of other things that have already been done. And while I like zombie stories in general, there is a fair amount of incestuousness and inbreeding within the genre, with writers borrowing familiar tropes and running them into cliches. That's part of the fun of the genre, to a degree, I suppose, but it almost always carries a heavy weight of been there, done that. It's important, then, that the elements enshrouding the core conceit of the zombie narrative to reach out into new places. Mira Grant did a wonderful job of this in her Newsflesh trilogy by not presenting the zombie apocalypse as an actual apocalypse, but a life-goes-on narrative with a presidential election spin. Here, it feels like Carey borrowed from a few too many other sources in order to string together his plot, adding a dash of The Last of Us mushroom's powers with a smidge of The Road and peppering them with nicely violent zombie action sequences.
I did appreciate that the story grew into an interesting sort-of family dynamic between the survivor, and reading how the characters transformed and grew together, or apart, was what really held my attention. While we have plenty of zombies, or hungries in Gift parlance, and nasty human scavengers, there's actually not much in the way of central figures to root against, save for the survivor squad's not-so-good doctor. But even her motivations are well-crafted and relateable, even if they are completely antagonistic toward the others. The behaviors of these group members were nicely believable and each at least have some brains in addition to their survival instincts, so it was refreshing to not have a handful of stupid people behaving stupidly in order to create false tension. Still, I kept expecting the scavengers to become more of a threat and the book's climax left me appeased but not entirely satisfied.
On the other hand, this is very much a book that is about the journey, not the destination. The characters grow and change, and the heirarchy in which they operate evolves over the course of the story so that by book's end there is a pronounced shift in the balance of power. Whether that's good or bad, in terms of the narrative, who can say? It is darn intriguing to consider, though.
So, final verdict? 3.5 stars. Good book, but I felt like something was missing along the way.