***Note: this review assumes that you've read the book.***
The Girl With All the Gifts is not really literature, it's more...consumable than that, so I'm not going to labor over this post. That means: a list of grievances!
It was entertaining. It got me through two plane flights. I liked the allusion between Melanie and Pandora of Greek mythology. But I had problems with this book: plot problems; unanswered questions; a lack of connection with many of the characters. And I was so disappointed to see this is one of those novels that's written after the screenplay, but released first so that it can seem like the movie was "based on the novel by...." Blegh, I'm not fond of the way Hollywood is doing that now. The Girl With All the Gifts in fact reads like a movie in many places, not like a book. And while I'm on the subject of the movie: Helen Justineau will be played by Gemma Arterton, but I was positive that Miss Justineau was African-American in the book.
1. The biggest problem: Why do the spores only infect human beings, and not other mammals? Obviously it's so the author can have the second-generation hungry kids survive even after all the old-style humans die in the spore storm Melanie releases. Once I got to the end I wanted to call, "COP OUT." It's lazy to create inconsistent, unexplained science just to avoid having a plot problem at the end.
2. Why do animals not seem to be enough to sustain the second-generation hungry kids? (They all appear to be starving.) There's a subtle implication that almost nothing fills a hungry up. For example, we see one of the hungries sate itself in the compound raid, and it becomes hungry again immediately. I think we're meant to assume the society of 2nd-gens will somehow raise livestock for themselves, but if that's the case the author should have made it seem more plausible that animal meat is sustaining the little hungry kids--they shouldn't all be emaciated and have stunted growth.
3. Miss Justineau is going to teach them differential equations? Isn't she an elementary-school teacher? But maybe here we're also supposed to assume that the kids are so smart, they'll teach themselves from books after Miss Justineau teaches them how to speak, read, and do basic math.
4. The 2nd-gen hungry newborn babies survive to childhood on their own, in the wild? With junkers around? And wild animals? And feral dogs and cats? Really? And furthermore: their mothers gave birth to them, yet none of the remaining humans, or junkers, or the soldiers like Parks who round up 2nd-gen kids has ever seen a pregnant 1st-gen hungry? None has never seen 1st-gens engaging in sex?
5. There were some errors in descriptive passages that made me wonder who edited/copyedited the book. For example, Melanie kneels next to Kieran's corpse and gets blood on her knees and her "calves." Clearly the author meant her shins. And another: "From the neck downwards [the figure] looks like a man--but it has no shoulders or neck or head." If it has no shoulders or neck, isn't it really the "chest downwards?"
6. The pacing was off: it takes all the way until page 317 of 403 to see the band of 2nd-gen hungry kids, and they're really the crux of the story. Meanwhile, Caldwell takes forever to succumb to septicemia, being astoundingly functional that whole time, but then dies all at once in a couple of pages. I also would have liked to have heard about Miss Justineau's self-hatred and self-punishment a little earlier, since much of the circularity of the novel is that she is doomed to a lifetime of being imprisoned in both Rosie (inside) and the environmental suit (outside) as her penance for running over that child. Finally, in a matter of mere hours Melanie somehow gathers all the children who've scattered (after she kills their painted-faced leader), convinces them to follow her to go to "class," convinces them not to eat their teacher (yes, I know Justineau is in an environmental suit, but Caldwell said it would only dampen the smell)--all without language.
7. Why don't Melanie or any of the other captured children remember their childhood in the wild?
8. Is it the awkward comic book writer in M.R. Carey who thinks he has to have Justineau and Parks sleep together before Parks dies? (Is it Parks's reward for being the author's favorite character?) Never mind that Justineau hasn't been that interested and even tells us she doesn't know why she's doing it now. Also, earlier in the book, they've just barely escaped from the junkers, the humvee is broken down, Parks has had to clear the church by killing a hungry that was writhing on the floor with Gallagher, and when they go to sleep together in the same room: "[Parks] stares up into the featureless dark, thinks of the flash of Justineau's crotch he glimpsed when she was pissing on the gravel outside. But the future is uncertain, and he can't get up enough enthusiasm even to masturbate." Why would he even consider masturbating in the same room as the boy he's commanding plus two civilians and a zombie child who doesn't sleep, all while he's exhausted and in total survival mode? And what does that word "even" mean here? If he had more enthusiasm he'd force himself on Justineau? An awkward thought, with awkward language, shoehorned into a space it didn't belong.
9. Too many annoying cinematic tropes, like Caldwell, who is being attacked by hungries in the lab, dropping the huge stack of papers and samples, and bending to pick up "the fallen treasures" as the hungries are swarming toward her.
In the end, I suppose I like my sci-fi/horror/post-apocalypse novels to be a tad more literary. But it was an entertaining book, and judging from the number of reviews on Goodreads, it was wildly successful.