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Literature / The Girl With All the Gifts

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She just wants a hug!

Her name is Melanie. It means "the black girl", from an ancient Greek word, but her skin is actually very fair so she thinks maybe it's not such a good name for her. She likes the name Pandora a whole lot, but you don't get to choose. Miss Justineau assigns names from a big list; new children get the top name on the boys' list or the top name on the girls' list, and that, Miss Justineau says, is that.

Melanie is a very special girl. Every day, a soldier comes to her cell and straps her in to a wheelchair and then wheels her to the classroom along with all the other children. And in the classroom, they are taught by Miss Justineau and other teachers (although Miss Justineau is the best). And then, after their lesson, they are wheeled back to their cells.

Aside from their cells, the corridor, and the classroom, Melanie and the other children have never been outside, but that's okay. They know that outside is a dangerous place filled with hungries.

And besides, Melanie would never leave Miss Justineau. She loves Miss Justineau.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a 2014 horror novel, and the first book of The Hungry Plague series by M. R. Carey, showing a quite different side of the Zombie Apocalypse.

It has been made into a motion picture that premiered late 2016.

Its prequel and Non-Linear Sequel The Boy on the Bridge was published in May 2017.

The Girl With All the Gifts includes the following tropes:

  • Adapted Out: Most of the named soldiers from the book, the junkers and two of the teachers: Miss Mailer, who while more reserved than Miss Justineau also has some Pet the Dog moments towards the kids, and alcoholic Mr. Whittaker.
  • The Alcoholic: Mr. Whittaker and most of Parks' soldiers.
  • Anti-Villain:
    • Dr. Caldwell. While she doesn't mind doing things like a vivisection of a child and treats them all as medical specimen and test subjects, her ultimate goal is to provide a cure that would save humankind or at least make what's left of it immune to the fast-acting pathogen.
    • Melanie is eventually revealed as one. She just wants to end the struggle. By removing humans from the equation.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 1, if not 0. The British Isles are definitely in state of complete chaos and "government" is reduced to few military bases and manufacturing facilities, all barely holding, but it's implied life goes on in other places much better. After Melanie releases the spores, it turns into full blown Class 3 - all humans around the world outside airtight environments will catch the infection.
  • Artistic License Military: There is just no way a single sergeant would be the top ranking soldier in a military base that appears to house at least a company inside. To put that into perspective, sergeant is usually commanding a squad, which is never bigger than 12 soldiers. Parks would either get a field promotion a long time ago or there would be simply some officer dispatched as a CO, since there is still enough manpower to form a company in the first place. This is lampshaded by Sergeant Parks himself, who is not happy with the situation and suspects it reflects the internal poor leadership and manpower shortage being experienced by Beacon.
  • Ascended Extra: Private Devani gets a single mention in the book, but is a Mauve Shirt in the film.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: The feral children's society, such as it is, operates on this.
  • The Atoner: Miss Justineau accidentally killed a kid before the Breakdown. Because the Breakdown happened, nobody found out, but she's determined not to lose Melanie because of it.
  • Beleaguered Assistant: Selkirk, a Guilt-Ridden Accomplice, is this to Caldwell. Gallagher also has some of this, but it has less to do with any fault on Parks side and more with the extreme situation they're in.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Miss Justineau and Parks are surrounded by the hungry children. Melanie rushes in there with the alarm and the flare gun and forces them all back.
  • Bittersweet Ending: And how. Parks dies and the fungus that causes the hungries is spread throughout the entire world. Melanie reveals, however, that when hungries breed, their children have partial immunity, making them the new generation to inherit the world. Melanie gets Miss Justineau to start educating the other hungry children so they won't be feral.
  • Black Comedy: Happens after Melanie devours a cat on one of her strolls. Miss Justineau notices the girl is looking curiously on a poster showing another one and asks if she would like to have a cat.
    Melanie: [blood drips from her face] I already had one.
  • Broken Aesop: In the movie. The moral of the story is that everybody has a right to live and no one person can claim the right to take someone's life for their own sake. This is all well and good, except in the end, Melanie deliberately commits genocide against the human race so her kind can survive and inherit the Earth.
  • Book Ends: "Hello, Miss Justineau." "Hello, class."
  • Born After the End: Melanie is a variant, being a sentient zombie child (not that she realizes this at first) born after the population of the U.K. was largely wiped out. She is being educated about the past while being kept prisoner for potential experiments by the military.
  • Canon Foreigner: Private Dillon wasn't in the book.
  • Chekhov's Gun: "Rosalind Franklin," the armored science van mentioned in the beginning, shows up near the end.
    • In the beginning of the book, trees that only shed their seeds after a brushfire are mentioned. Later, this becomes very relevant.
    • Gallagher picks up a grenade in the beginning, keeping it in his pocket. Although it seems to be building to this, the trope is averted. Gallagher can't bring himself to use it on the hungry kids.
  • Chekhov's Lecture: In the beginning, Dr. Caldwell tells Miss Justineau all about how the Ophiocordyceps fungus works and how it causes ants to go up to the highest leaf before breaking open and spreading the fungus out. Which is exactly what Melanie causes it to do at the end of the book.
  • Children Are Innocent: Melanie certainly is. The other hungry children are just doing what they've learned to do to survive. At the end, Melanie gets them to sit down and get lessons from Miss Justineau.
  • Commander Contrarian: Miss Justineau to Caldwell (who never quite makes peace with her) and Parks (who eventually does).
  • Constantly Curious: After all, Melanie is still a child, so she likes to ask countless questions. The highlight includes nagging Parks about how bullets can be "soft" and then progressively asking more and more specific questions, until the Sergeant explains to her what hollow points are and why they are useful in their situation.
  • Crazy Survivalist: The "junkers". They play a minor role in the book, causing the collapse of the military base. In the film, not counting a briefly mention, they are completely absent.
  • Creepy Child/Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: In spades. Their innocence just makes their actions even creepier. And when it comes to Gallagher's death - well, all gloves are off.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Miss Justineau.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Averted. No time is spend on providing any additional exposition or establishing characters before the plot thickens. And it picks up some serious pace within first 10 minutes.
  • Devoured by the Horde: The name "hungries" didn't came from nowhere. And almost all characters die this way.
  • Didn't Think This Through: At least in the film version, it is implied Melanie didn't really realize all the implications of her final decision. Not so much in the book.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Gallagher at the newspaper stand, full of adult magazines.
  • The Dog Bites Back: And in a truly spectacular fashion. Melanie basically wipes out what's left of humanity for all the suffering and mistreatment she received from Dr. Caldwell and the soldiers.
  • Drone of Dread: In the movie, obviously. Alternates with One-Woman Wail.
  • Dwindling Party: Starting from three soldiers, a doctor, a teacher and a little girl, by the end of the story only the teacher and the girl are still alive.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: After the spores are released, humanity as a whole is doomed.
  • Foreshadowing: While still relatively distanced, Gallagher is the only one of the soldiers to show any emotional attachment to the children. Which further explains why he was unable to bring himself to blow the feral children into pieces with his grenade.
  • Enforced Method Acting: In-universe and played for laughs in the film. After Melanie has just done some really brutal things to get her friends clear of the feral kids.
    Melanie: Pretend like you're scared of me.
    Parks: Pretend!?
  • Festering Fungus: Like in The Last of Us, the hungries are caused not by a virus but by the fungus Ophiocordyceps, which strips them of all but the most basic instincts like hunger and sex. Melanie is a child who is infected with the fungus and partially immune to it, due to being the child of a hungry and thus having a symbiotic relationship with the fungus. In the end, she ensures that the fungus is spread throughout the entire world, so that the partially-immune hungry children will inherit the Earth.
  • Hero of Another Story: In the movie, there is a lone soldier who managed to get to the vehicle depo, get himself a jeep, drive all the way to the main gate, open it and almost get back to his car, only to be swarmed right when he's about to board the car. We are only there to witness the very end of his desperate struggle. For all it's worth, Dillon puts a few bullets in him, saving him from further pain.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Played straight in the book and notably subverted in the film adaptation, where silencers are used extensively, but they only muffle the gunshot slightly. That still prevents attracting zombies from surrounding area, but it doesn't make assault rifles silent by any means.
  • Horror Hunger: The scent of a human compels a hungry to attack and attempt to devour that human. Melanie and others like her don't have triggers like sound and movement, but she cannot control herself around human smell. Although she does not want to eat humans, she tells Parks she sometimes needs to, and she admits that nothing else tastes as good. She does eventually get used enough to the smell trigger that she can keep herself under control, especially when she's already eaten.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: A well-justified case happens in the film, where Parks asks Melanie to shoot him, fully knowing he might lose his motor control to infection before pulling the trigger and thus being unable to reliably kill himself.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Without carrying one for a while, Gallagher would be still alive by the end of the story. Or rather, until the end of the story.
    • Fully aware how dangerous and irreversible the bites are, Devani is just standing and watching Melanie bite and kill her fellow soldier, rather than riddling them both with bullets. She then tries to take the girl off the body for no reason at all and gets bitten herself. Should she fire her rifle, the entire story would have ended before they even leave the base. It's especially obvious in the film due to visible aimless standing.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: The soldiers don't even bother to refer to the children by their names or even treat them as human, while Melanie is shown knowing every person in the base by their name, surname and rank. In fact, Miss Justineau is the only person who memorized all the children's names, so she doesn't need to look them up each time.
    Sergeant Parks: Rise and shine, you friggin' abortions.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Sergeant Parks is a hardened, profane, cynical man (arguably moreso in the book than the movie), capable of great violence, but he is capable of empathy and is working hard to get everyone to Beacon.
  • Last-Name Basis: As obvious part of military protocol-all soldiers talk to each other using their surnames. Turns out Sarge didn't even knew Gallagher's first name.
    Melanie:: With Miss Justineau and Kieran, anyway.
    Sergeant Parks: "Kieran"?
  • Life Will Kill You: Dr. Caldwell is dying out of sepsis caused by a relatively minor palm injury.
  • Lost in Transmission: The radio call from the Beacon starts to get cranky right after the operator on the other side informs their fence is barely holding and will fall within next few hours. Everything after that turns into static and the connection is lost permanently.
  • Mama Bear: Miss Justineau. She will do anything to keep Melanie safe.
  • Mauve Shirt: Every single soldier with spoken lines who isn't Sergeant Parks. The rest of them are just Red Shirts.
  • Mercy Kill: Dillon shoots another soldier who's being ravaged by the hungries. Later Parks begs Melanie to shoot him before he becomes one, and she does.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Happens to Melanie twice in the film.
    • The first time is when she realizes the numbers she has been giving Dr. Caldwell correspond to the cell numbers of the other children, meaning Caldwell has been using her to randomly choose which children to vivisect next. Once she realizes that those numbered don't come back, she offers her own number without hesitation.
    • The second occurs during the climax when she unwittingly exposes Parks to the fungal spores.
  • Not So Harmless: Just because she's a little kid doesn't make Melanie any less dangerous or vicious. She effortlessly kills two soldiers and beats to death leader of the feral children. But nothing tops the fact she consciously and intentionally releases the spores into the atmosphere, in the process wiping out human race as we know it.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: They are called "hungries".
  • Obvious Trap: Sure, Kieran, why not follow a trail made out of canned food, with the last can conveniently lying right behind barely lifted shop shutters. It quickly reaches the point of Gallagher being Too Dumb to Live when he stops inside to check some porn magazines, without carrying his rifle or at least having the radio at hand.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Like The Last of Us, the zombies are caused not by a virus but by the fungus Ophiocordyceps. They are still alive, they require food and don't suffer from Zombie Gait, but also lack any reactions above most basic instincts and the only way to kill them reliably is solid head trauma.
  • Porn Stash: Gallagher mentions that one of the other soldiers, Private Brooks, had an ancient playboy magazine from before the breakdown that he'd occasionally rent out to the other soldiers.
  • Race Lift: Done in both directions in the film. On one side, Miss Justineau is described as being black in the book, but is played by the white actress Gemma Arterton in the film. On the other, Melanie is described as having very fair skin, with the book even opening with a remark about how her name (derived from an ancient Greek word meaning "the black girl"note ) is ironic, but in the film, she is played by a black actress.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Miss Justineau, although she doesn't have much authority. Sergeant Parks becomes one of these after he starts trusting Melanie.
  • Reluctant Mad Scientist: Dr. Selkirk (her book version, at least) clearly dislikes helping Caldwell's vivisections. Eventually she can barely look at the kids. Caldwell notices this, but sees it just as a testimony to her own triumph and talent, accomplishing so much with just a single, weak-stomached assistant.
  • The Reveal:
    • Dr. Caldwell finally tells Melanie what she is: the child of a hungry. Some hungries retain their instincts from before, including having sex, so some hungries become pregnant and give birth, leaving children who have a partial immunity (but who usually grow up in the wild and never learn how to talk).
    • In the book, she also reveals there is no possibility to develop a cure nor a vaccine.
  • Safe Zone Hope Spot: Beacon. Although they never reach it, the lack of communication implies it may have already fallen. Based on Gallagher's memories, and the prequel it wasn't a nice place anyway.
  • Scientist vs. Soldier: While they never turn on each other, Dr. Caldwell bosses around her soldiers guarding her with a certain sense of entitlement, while caring little for their sacrifices, while the soldiers are hardened and dismissive of the scientists efforts, believing them to be unnerving and inefficient.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Of the Broken Soldier variety. Parks is bitter and angry, while many of his men have descended into alcoholism due to Beacon not sending them a relief detail, but they all lack war crimes or psychopathic tendencies.
  • Sole Surviving Scientist: Dr. Caldwell. For better or worse, she wasn't among the original science team chosen to research the virus responsible for the Zombie Apocalypse. Since that team went missing, it leaves Caldwell as the most competent person still alive.
    • Actually, Caldwell mentioned that she was the twenty-seventh highest ranked candidate for that mission, which had twelve scientists actually chosen. This could potentially mean that there are still fourteen other scientists considered better than her, although some likely died during the years between that mission and her operation being established, others were likely too scared to leave Beacons walls after the research teams went missing and still others may have simply been a different type of scientist than the kind required to cut apart bodies looking for a cure.
  • Spiritual Successor: To 28 Days Later and The Last of Us, sharing countless common elements fitting for each of those settings.
  • Shout-Out: The ending is one toward I Am Legend, with a new "branch" of humanity taking over the planet and eventually building their own civilization. Maybe.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Inverted with Mr. Whittaker, the only male teacher.
  • Technically Living Zombie: The hungries are technically alive, because the fungus operates their nervous system. Moreso for the hungry children, where the fungus acts as more symbiotic.
  • There's No Kill like Overkill: In the book, Parks expresses frustration that Nielson the quartermaster keeps signing out ten-gallon drums of petrol for Kill It with Fire traps when a simple ambush with machetes and guns is usually enough to do the trick and due to Apocalyptic Logistics being averted they can't spare that gas.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Private Dillon. He ignores Sergeant Parks' order to equip a suppressor, resulting in him luring a bunch of hungries to the group after he instinctively fires his rifle into the bushes upon hearing a noise. This not only causes their truck to become disabled by a stray bullet, but Dillon himself to become infected and killed.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: No one told Melanie that she wasn't a normal girl or that her upbringing wasn't typical.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Dr. Caldwell. She is searching for a cure for Ophiocordyceps and will do anything to do so. Including killing children. In fact, she sees nothing wrong in vivisecting conscious children, with no anesthetic (though she doesn't think they really feel or understand it). The film version admits she was wrong about this, but still wants Melanie vivisected, though she promises some anesthetic this time. In any case Melanie foils this plan.
  • Wham Line: This happens right after Dr. Caldwell confirms to Melanie that she no longer considers her a specimen, but a human being.
    Melanie: Then why should it be us who die for you?
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Most of the soldiers at Hotel Echo (and two of Ms. Justineau's co-workers, Miss Mailer and Mr. Whittaker) just vanish after the fall of the base. Their final fates aren't revealed, but if they did survive the attack itself, they would almost certainly have been infected by the end anyways.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Subverted. The second-generation hungries look like normal children and act like them, but that's where the similarities end. Not a single character is deceived by the fact they appear to be harmless kids.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Melanie, who in her child naivety assumes things will sort themselves out after all humans will get infected.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Played with. Dr. Caldwell doesn't actually see them as children, so she has no qualms about anything she does. But even when she finds out that the children have a symbiotic relationship with the fungus, showing her they are thinking, sentient beings quite certainly comparable to people, she only marvels at her genius in figuring it out. From samples taken from the brain of a six-year-old boy she killed and beheaded (who, in fairness, was trying to kill her). The film version is a bit softer, asking Melanie to sacrifice her life for the humans', but she's refused.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Gallagher doesn't detonate the spare grenade he stashed when he's cornered by the feral children, because he just can't bring himself to kill them when they have no comprehension that the grenade is a danger and his attempt to simply scare them off with it is ineffective. And besides, he dies either way.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: The story starts years into it, with but a handful of human outposts still left around. In fact, so many years have passed, children of the infected people are in their early teens.
  • Zombie Infectee: Averted. The infection takes hold within less than a minute, making any hidden infectees highly unlikely. When Dillon got bitten, Parks held him at gunpoint just to be sure and shot him the moment Dillon started to twitch.

Alternative Title(s): The Girl With All The Gifts