Melanie is one of those monsters that you’re never really sure is a monster; The Girl with All the Gifts (M.R. Carey, 2014) is one of those books that reinforces the idea that sometimes, it is humanity that is monstrous. I read the book earlier this year, and I was absolutely transfixed.
The book takes place in a dystopic future in which humanity has been mostly wiped out by a fungal infection that turns humans into hungries—the book’s word for zombies. The humans that are left either travel in packs or live in heavily guarded areas. And in one of these guarded areas is Melanie, a young girl. But we quickly see that something is different about Melanie: she’s in a classroom, but she’s strapped into a device that sounds very much like the contraption Hannibal Lecter is required to wear when he’s wheeled out of his cell. The other kids are, too.
Clearly Melanie is Something Different. She’s a hungry. But she’s much more in control of herself than the hungries described outside the settlements. Melanie and the other children in this settlement are being studied because they still have partial control of their minds—they can learn, and they retain control of themselves unless they are too close to unmasked human scent. When their base is attacked, the doctor in charge of studying the children (Dr. Caldwell), Melanie, a sergeant in charge of security (Sergeant Parks), and Melanie’s teacher (Ms. Justineau) escape.
Melanie’s self-awareness is high. We see her begin to question what she is and how she is being treated as the others fight over what to do. Caldwell (who was moments away from dissecting Melanie’s brain before the attack) views Melanie as a prime specimen for working toward a cure. Parks sees her as a monstrous killing machine, incapable of emotion. Only Justineau sees her as a child, but even this is an incomplete conceptualization of Melanie, a denial of part of her being.
Melanie’s story is sometimes harrowing, sometimes beautiful. She’s a beautifully written character, incredibly complex—and not what we generally think of when we think of zombies.