Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
Author: Carrie Ryan
Series: The Forest of Hands and Teeth #1
Publisher: Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House
Publication Date: 2009
Age Group/Genre: Young Adult/Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Zombies
In Mary’s world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future—between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded by so much death? (Cover and synopsis from Goodreads.)
Recently I started a book club in my area for adults who like to read YA, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth was our first selection. When we met up to discuss the book, it seems like I was in the minority. Because one person hated the book (although she continued to read the entire series and hated it as well, which baffles me–why continue reading a series that you hate?), and the others kind of ranged from not really liking it to liking it but really disliking the main character, Mary. But I LOVED it.
This was my first zombie book and perhaps that explains why. Maybe there are tons of better zombie books out there, but because this was my first one, I really loved it. And maybe I loved it because prior to this year, I HATED anything to do with zombies. And then I decided to see what all the fuss was over the TV show The Walking Dead, and now I’m hooked. I want to read ALL the zombie books. So maybe I’m just so in love with zombies right now that I would probably love anything that I read, as long as it was about zombies.
But I don’t know if that’s all true. I found lots of things about The Forest of Hands and Teeth that I enjoyed, and I think I would have enjoyed them even if this was my 50th zombie book to read. For instance, I loved that this book is set at least 100 years after a zombie apocalypse. The zombies are still there, and they still pose a threat to humans, but instead of showing how humanity reacts to a zombie apocalypse, it shows how humans have sustained years after the event.
And because this is years after the apocalypse, it’s still falls into the post-apocalyptic category, but the village that Mary lives in makes the book fall into the dystopian category as well, since things aren’t exactly as those who are in charge make them seem. But it also has that thriller-type aspect because the characters do have to fight for their lives against zombies. And yet the story is also introspective, with Mary and the other characters having to determine how they want to live in this kind of world, and deciding what it really means to live. Is it just surviving? Or is there more?
I also really enjoyed when Mary would think about the zombies and who they used to be. It seems like a lot of times, zombies are used as a kind of nameless, mindless villain, something that is just evil and has no complexity at all. Yet in The Forest of Hands and Teeth (and often in The Walking Dead, as well), characters reflect on how the zombies used to be human, just like them, and that they themselves may one day be just like the zombies that they are killing.
I came across a lot of lines that I loved in The Forest of Hands and Teeth, but here is my favorite non-spoilery one: