YA Friday: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Friday, July 08, 2011

I am super disgruntled because I spent hours today working on a flyer to get toy and food donations for the crisis nursery I volunteer at, only to be shot down because it is "solicitation." So, I will write a review about zombies.

Title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan
Genre: YA, post-apocalypse/zombie apocalypse
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2009
Source: Library

Mary is used to her life surrounded by The Unconsecrated. She has heard their moans as a backdrop to her entire life, lived every moment encircled by the powerful fence that keeps her village safe. However, Mary starts to wonder if the Sisterhood, the religious and protective force of the village, has been keeping secrets - secrets like other settlements beyond the Forest of Hands and Teeth, and just how the Unconsecrated came in the first place. As she learns more and more, Mary must decide if she can be content with the life she's been dealt or if she will be driven to seek out the world beyond the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

This book had me seriously behind in homework. I started reading it while waiting in line for the bus one morning, only to have to keep promising myself chapter after chapter that "this is the last one." I ended up reading all four hours of my bus drive that day. Carrie Ryan knows how to build suspense. I couldn't stop reading until my questions were answered, but as soon as they were, another would be presented. I was swept into Mary's dark world, discovering with her the secrets that the Sisterhood had kept hidden.

Romance was a fairly heavy aspect of this book, as each year there is a festival where young adults choose a spouse to keep the village populated. An epidemic wiped out most of the people of child-bearing age, so the pressure is especially high. However, Mary is confused as Harry seeks her out as his companion, but his brother Travis - who has already selected his own girl to court - confides in and develops a relationship with Mary. The angst was high throughout the book, and the added element of imminent death by zombie-bite only elevated it. Everything played out to a gut-wrenching climax.

As far as the "scary factor" goes, I was a bit disappointed. I like a decent scare as long as it isn't too bloody or evil, and while the plot was intense, I never really felt spooked. I had no trouble going to sleep at night. It's not that I don't find zombies frightening, either - I had at least two different nightmares about I Am Legend. However, in this book the people were much more awful than the zombies, who actually seemed pretty dumb and easy to fend off except for the fact that there were practically infinite numbers of them. It was still a powerful and emotional story, but I would have liked to be kept up a bit more. The Unconsecrated just weren't quite vivid enough in my mind.

I was also a little disappointed in the fact that some of my questions weren't answered. Granted, this is a trilogy, so things might become clear later on. However, I know that the next books follow different characters - they aren't about Mary, at least not directly. I was left wondering why "The Fast One" was better than the other zombies, and I also didn't find out how the zombies got there in the first place. Neither of these were absolutely essential to the plot, but I felt a little cheated that they were raised multiple times and never answered.

While the scares weren't always powerful, the emotions were. I felt in tune with what Mary was going through, with her conflicting desires for love, acceptance, and answers. At times, her absolute need to get to the ocean was perplexing to me, but when I remembered my own passion for ideals as a teenager, it made perfect sense. Don't get me wrong, I still have ideals that I care passionately about, but when I was sixteen, they were the only thing in the world. I would never have allowed pragmatism to get in the way of pursuing that dream, and neither does Mary. I think adults may see her as a selfish character, sacrificing everything to get what she wants, but I think teens may identify with her single-minded passion for escape and a better world.

I also have to add in this little (mostly unrelated) thought I had while I was reading this book. A year and a half or so ago, I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. There are no zombies in The Road, but there are people who (slight spoiler) eat other people, and have lost their humanity. The zombies in The Forest of Hands and Teeth also eat people and have completely lost their humanity. The only difference is that the characters in The Road still look human, while the zombies in The Forest of Hands and Teeth are visibly monsters. Anyway, thanks for indulging that brief aside.

This was definitely a powerful book, and I am looking forward to reading the remainder of the series (finally, a series I started when it was already finished!). It isn't my normal cup of tea, but certainly left me thinking. If you are looking for something a little darker or love reading about the zombie apocalypse, this is for you.

3.75 - I can't quite give it a four, but it was much better than a three. *Joys of subjective blogging*

Warnings for the sensitive reader: Violence. Scary zombies. Making out.


  1. I'm so glad you liked this book! I really liked this one too. I've read all three and to be honest, the first one is my least favorite! On our D.C. trip I kept thinking about the third one every time we went a certain place (I won't tell you where- I don't want to be a spoiler!)because a majorly intense scene takes place there. Crazy!

  2. Hi, just wanted to let you know I've added your entry to the literary blog directory: http://tinylibrary.blogspot.com/p/literary-blog-directory.html
    Hope you find some great blogs through it and also get some new readers. There's a button on my blog for you to use.

  3. Kayd - I will have to read the next one soon! I have so many library books right now that I don't even know where to start.

    Sam - Thank you! I will be picking up that button and looking through the directory soon.

  4. I ADORE this book. I ADORE the second one as much or possibly more. I found myself unable to adequately type out my feelings about how beautifully written they were despite how awkward and grotesque the subject matter. You did a great job.

    I too read The Road by Cormac McCarthy (oh my word, unbelievable book, no?) and didn't even consider that similarity. I think in McCarthy's book, those people are just people gone horribly wrong...just bad people. Ryan's Mudo are not "bad" on purpose, they just have to bite and eat for survival. Where I despised these people in McCarthy's book, at times I almost sympathized with the Mudo in certain situations. (just my two cents, for what it is worth...)

    I am always hesitant to read the final book in a series, because to do so is to finish it and shut it completely. So I will probably hold onto it for awhile before I read it. I always do that in a series (except I rushed through Mockingjay and wish I would have waited). This has, however, been one of my favorite series to date.


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