The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Zombies. Eeew. Why are they so popular? They aren’t all dark, mysterious and sexy, like vampires, aiming to seduce their way into your bedroom, while promising eternal life. They don’t possess that, ahem, “animal magnetism” that werewolves do, complete with moonlight races through the wild places, hunting excitement with the same fervor they use to hunt deer. Heck, they don’t even sparkle, for Pete’s sake. I don’t really get the attraction, most of the time. However…you knew there was a “however,” didn’t you?…in the case of Carrie Ryan’s three part Young Adult series of the ever-popular Zombie Apocalypse scenario, I’m willing to admit, they can be spellbinding.
I first saw this little book last year, sitting on a shelf at a local big box store, and I was immediately drawn to the cover and the title. I mean, The Forest of Hands and Teeth? How spooky is that? I was doubtful, but I thought anyone who could make up a title that shivery ought to be given a chance, so I gave her one. I have seen reviews of this book, and the two sequels, that ranged from 5 stars with multiple exclamation points (some of us are addicted to those, you know!!!!!) to numbers in the MINUS range. (Some of us are addicted to writing in ALL CAPS, too.) People seemed to either hate the books or love them. I have to confess, I loved them. All three of them.
Perhaps I haven’t read enough Zombie Apocalypse books to have a good basis for comparison–like none, other than these–but for me, they were dark, disturbing, compelling, and strangely beautiful. I thought the world building was good, and the character development worked. In The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Mary is a young girl who lives in a fenced-in village, protected by The Sisterhood. The very survival of the village depends on maintaining the fence that separates them from the forest where the Unconsecrated live. Even standing too close to the fence can get you bitten, and thus infected with whatever the strange, mutant zombie-virus is. (Whatever it is, you don’t want it, trust me.)
Our heroine, Mary, is a teenager, born and raised in the village, who doesn’t want to settle. She can’t give up the idea that there used to be something better, that there were other places where people had lived in things called cities, and that there was actually a vast body of water called an ocean. So much time has passed since cities were real that no one in her village even remembers them. Mary has only a tattered postcard with an old photo of the world as it once was to inspire her dreams. Generations have lived and died in places like this village, hiding from the Unconsecrated for so long, any other worlds have attained mythological status, and no one is brave (or stupid) enough to try to go looking for anything else. Except Mary.
While The Forest of Hands and Teeth is definitely dark, and bad things (with hands and teeth galore) happen to good people, for me, it was always about the basic message of never giving up hope. Something in Mary’s soul just would not let her settle for a life with such concrete and dismal boundaries, and she was willing to take any risk to find the answers her heart was seeking.
I read a review of the book that described Carrie Ryan’s writing as choppy and incoherent. Personally, I thought it was exactly right for this story, indicating the fractured thinking processes of a girl who has reached the limit of what she can stand within the confines of her narrow, fenced-in world. I loved the tone of the book, and I wasn’t disappointed in the following two, either. Each sequel centers on a different girl connected to Mary, though farther along in time, who won’t accept that her life is all there is. And each one gets closer and closer to what she wants to find. The weakest point in the series comes at the very end, which is the only part in any of the books that fails to be believable to me. Technically, at least. But the spirit remains true, and the story, overall is one of the power of hope–in a “don’t let the bastards get you down” (or eat your face) kind of way.
As always, don’t take my word for it. You have a mind of your own, assuming you don’t live in The Forest of Hands and Teeth, that is. And if you’ve already read the series, let me know what you thought, even if your take was different from mine.
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