The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey – Review

Sometimes, the stars align and you find yourself prepared for something unexpected. While I wish I could say that about the whole of my life (and the world in general), this has only really happened in one area: reading. Luckily reading is kind of what I’m best at (along with writing perhaps), and as such I was very excited to find out that three things had happened without me realising:

  1. A companion novel to a book I loved was being published;
  2. It had been published a few days ago; and
  3. I had read the book it was related to only a month or so before, so it was fresh in my mind.

As the name is in the title, I’m afraid you don’t win any points for guessing that the book I’m talking about is The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey, which is a prequel to The Girl with All the Gifts. For those who are unaware of Girl, it was published in 2014 and commissioned as a film at the same time, so Carey actually wrote the book and the screenplay at the same time. For more information on this, I highly recommend watching Jen Campbell’s interview with him here, as I heard about Boy from her as well. In fact, just check out all her videos – she’s an incredibly smart and charismatic person, and I absolutely love her work. Like poetry? Check her out. Like fairytales? Check her out. Like discussing issues of social justice and disability? Check her out!

Alright, now that I’ve finished fangirling over Jen, let’s get down to why you (probably) clicked on this post. Should you buy this book? In all honesty, how could I tell you what to do with your time and money? I personally wanted to get this book as soon as I heard about it (and indeed I did, even though it was only available in hardback, which I’m not a fan of), but some people have felt that they’ve been led astray by the blurb:

“Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy.

The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.

To where the monsters lived.”

If we compare this with the blurb for Girl, we might think that the stories are pretty similar:

“Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her ‘our little genius.’

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.”

At first glance, it seems that the stories are very similar, but actually the purpose of Boy is to serve as a different type of story within the same world as Girl (and around the same sort of time). Therefore, it’s best to view as a companion novel, rather than something intimately connected with Girl, although it does give some further details on areas that arise within Girl.

So, what is the novel really about? I’m going to start this off (finally, after 500 words) by giving a bit of background to the world and some information on Girl, although this review is spoiler-free for both books. Both books are set about ten years after an apocalyptic event wherein a fungal infection has spread through the human population, turning them into flesh-hungry zombies (referred to as ‘hungries’). So yes, a zombie book, but like all good zombie stories, this focuses more on people, and who we consider to be a person, than zombies themselves. The infection is actually the same as the one in The Last of Us, a video game that I absolutely love, centred around a young girl who may provide a cure making her way across the country, accompanied by an older man. Actually, there are a lot of similarities between the two, but they remain distinct enough that I never felt that one was ripping off the other. It’s also particularly interesting because the fungal infection actually exists, albeit in ants, which turns the ant into a host for the fungus.

Within Girl, Melanie, her teacher Miss Justineau, Dr Caldwell (an epidemiologist), Private Gallagher, and Sergeant Parks are forced to journey from the only home Melanie has ever known, an old RAF base in the south of England, to the last surviving human city, Beacon, in south Kent. Through the course of their journey, they have to travel through London, where they find an abandoned mobile laboratory called the Rosalind Franklin – heavily armoured and near indestructible, the Rosalind and another vehicle, the Charles Darwin, were sent out from Beacon, and then never heard from again. Boy is the story of what happened to the Rosalind.

At the start, we join the crew of the Rosalind just after they’ve left Beacon, made up of a science team, and an army escort to protect the scientists, who are all handily listed on pages 12 and 13.

The scientists:

  1. Dr Alan Fournier – civilian commander
  2. Samrina Khan – epidemiologist
  3. Lucien Akimwe – chemist
  4. John Sealey – biologist
  5. Elaine Penny – biologist
  6. Stephen Greaves – nobody is entirely certain

The escort:

  1. Colonel Isaac Carlisle – military commander
  2. Lieutenant Daniel McQueen – sniper and second in command
  3. Lance-Bombardier Kat Foss – sniper
  4. Private Brandon Lutes – engineer
  5. Private Paula Sixsmith – driver
  6. Private Gary Phillips – quartermaster

Just as in Girl, the viewpoints switch between characters, although Carey now has to deal with a larger cast of characters. However, his writing is so carefully crafted that the thread of the story is preserved throughout, and each chapter has a purpose in furthering the story. I mean sure, sometimes it’s aggravating, but he weaves everything together in such a satisfying way. Just as in Girl, the characters are varied and complex, and even when I thought I had them sussed out, they still managed to surprise me. Also, Carey is great writing diverse characters. Of the twelve primary characters, at least two are PoC (that we’re aware of from their names, I won’t assume that because someone has a ‘white sounding’ name that they are white), and at least two gay characters in a relationship, and one who may be asexual. There are also four women in the typically male-dominated fields of science and the armed forces, and no character is ever reduced to a stereotype.

That’s all very well and good, but what happens? I don’t want to go into too much detail here, as I always like to experience a story for myself. However, now would be a good time to return to my qualm about Boy‘s blurb, as it implies (along with the cover art) that the boy is a similar age to Melanie (who is ten). However, Stephen, the eponymous character, is actually fifteen, and is a very capable scientist (it’s revealed early on that he invented the e-blocker that protects human scent from attracting the hungries) and he sets out with the rest of the crew to find a cure. While I would argue that Girl is hardly a children’s book, it certainly deals with the innocence of child and the experience of growing up and becoming aware of your place in the world. In contrast, Boy deals with hope in the face of overwhelming odds, of the importance of sacrifice, and the human resilience to survive in the harshest of conditions.

Overall, Boy is a slightly slower, more subtle story than Girl, which focuses more on the dynamics of a group rather than individual characters, but is utterly mesmerising, and slowly ups the emotional stakes to a jaw-dropping finale. Despite being connected, there is no mention of the plot or characters in Girl (apart from a quick reference to Dr Caldwell) until the epilogue. And oh dear Lord, what an epilogue it is. It was beautiful, it brought genuine tears of joy to my eyes, which hasn’t happened to me for a long time, and it absolutely thrilled me to my core. I gave this book 4/5 stars, as I did for Girl.

So left me know what you think; did you like Boy? If you haven’t read it yet, are you tempted? You can find me Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter, and until next time, may your plots be satisfying and your characters get what they deserve.

If you would like to buy either The Boy on the Bridge or The Girl with All the Gifts, then the links will take you to The Book Depository, where you get free delivery. If you decide to buy them using these links, I’ll also receive a small commission 🙂


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