Title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan
Review: Let me start by saying this is the best zombie novel I have read in years.
Mary lives in a small village surrounded on all sides by the never ending forest; the forest of hands and teeth. For this forest is made not only of earth and trees, but of the unconsecrated who hunger for flesh and sinew, tearing with hands and gnashing their teeth. Mary’s family has already been torn apart by the unconsecrated, her father missing on one of the routine patrols of the fences that keep the village safe. Mary’s mother joins her father after she gets too close to the gates and is bitten by one of the unconsecrated outside, choosing to become a zombie instead of being killed before the infection takes over her body. After her death, Mary finds herself truly alone in the village; her older brother turns her out of their home. When no male speaks for Mary to take her as a bride, she has no other choice but to seek refuge with The Sisterhood — the holy, powerful, governing body of the village.
Mary has never fit in with her people; instead of conforming and accepting the simple life behind the fences surrounded by so much death and fear, she yearns for the dreams of her mother. For generations, her family has passed down tales of the world before the Return, about a world where people roamed free without the fear of the unconsecrated. Mostly, Mary loves the tales of a body of water spanning the horizon in endless blue — and it is her passion to finally see the ocean one day, and she will risk everything to find what else might be out there besides the constant terror that rules her life. Soon Mary discovers that the Sisterhood guards precious secrets from the village, about a life that might exist beyond the fences. And when the fences are finally breached, Mary knows that it is time she must choose between her dreams and the sheltered life she has always known.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth is an evocative, haunting novel and I loved every bit of it, reading it within a single seating. Narrated in the first person by young, passionate Mary, this is a gripping look at a post-apocalyptic world many times removed from the initial chaos of a zombie breakout. One thing I loved about this novel was the sense of uncertainty, and the lack of knowledge. Instead of being plopped into the thick of things as many apocalypse novels are wont to do, The Forest of Hands and Teeth instead focuses on the survivors in a drastically changed landscape. These villagers do not know much of anything — not the cause for the Return, not who built their fences, not if there’s anything else outside and beyond the forest. The Sisterhood fuels that doubt, keeping knowledge of any outside world to themselves, in order to protect their way of life.
Mary is the square cog that does not fit into the round hole with her dreams of the ocean and her insatiable curiosity. Her honest, passionate narration is impossible to put down as she struggles with love for a man she cannot have, duty to her family and the village, and her burning desire to see that the stories of her mother are true. Mary’s passion drives this novel, and her hope against all odds to find something more.
In many ways, the Forest of Hands and Teeth that surrounds these characters is a metaphor for growing up — choosing to live within the established confines, safely; or bursting through the fences to chance at the unknown. While Mary will stop at nothing to find her ocean after the fences are breached, her friends will not take that plunge. And it is this difference, this fire in Mary that makes her such a wonderful, compelling heroine.
I personally adore zombies, in film, in literature, in songs. I am not a casual fan. Believe me when I say I have an extensive DVD collection of many, many zombie films (from the obvious to the extremely obscure), and a shelf devoted to the flesh eating undead at home. And speaking as a true fan of the genre, I can safely say that The Forest of Hands and Teeth does a phenomenal job of portraying the core issue at the heart of any great zombie tale.
While The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a zombie book, it is, along with the best in the zombie genre, a book about people. It is a book about living versus surviving, about growing up, about love and faith in the unknown. The zombies remain on the outside of the fences, forcing the characters to confront their issues and fears. They wait in the wings, while the still living are mired in conflict. Any yahoo that has seen a zombie movie knows that the gore and the guts and viscera is a wonderfully fun (and integral) part of the genre — but what separates the big boys from the rabble is the underlying message.
And, in this reviewer’s opinion, Ms. Ryan’s beautifully written debut novel will appeal to true fans of the Zombie, as well as newbies or those who might shy away from the genre.
Buy it here:
Kindle Edition: www.amazon.com