The Forest of Hands and Teeth
by Carrie Ryan
March 10th 2009 by Delacorte Press
0385736819 (isbn13: 9780385736817)
I was one of the first people to read Twilight, before the whole Bella/Edward craze took over. One of the reviews that I read months later said that Twilight signaled the new "in" subject in YA - vampires. They were the "new zombies;" and zombies were "out."
I had never read any books about zombies, for two reasons. First, Robin McKinley has never written a book about them. Second, I am a wimp. A big one. I saw "Poltergeist" when I was 19 and I still have nightmares about it. Forget "Thriller." Undead doesn't do it for me.
Keep that in mind, then, that it's a compliment when I say that I almost couldn't finish The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. Her writing is intelligent and sure-handed. Her descriptions are vivid without being verbose. Her zombies jump off the page and try to eat my brains. Oh, wait.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth introduces Mary, a teenager who lives in a dystopian future. The rules set by the Sisterhood are clear - stay inside the gates, away from the undead who run free in the forest. But when tragedy strikes and Mary must join the Sisterhood against her will, she finds herself thinking about what might lie beyond the fence.
I really want to be able to tell you more, but then I would have to feed you to the undead. Instead, watch this trailer:
Truly, I am lucky beyond lucky to even have gotten my hands on the ARC of this book. The fantastic Sharon at "Sharon Loves Books and Cats" chose me as the default winner of her holiday giveaway. The day I received the ARC in the mail, I put the kids to bed and then stayed up late to read the whole gosh darn book. And then I stayed up late because I couldn't sleep. I'm not sure how to eruditely say, "I was creeped out."
But Forest of Hands and Teeth was not a slasher brain candy kind of story. Ryan's characterization of Mary shows the depth of a perceptive, complex teenager. Her relationships are not easily defined, and her penchant for questioning authority puts her in frightening situations.
The only hesitation I have in totally recommending this book is its ambiguity concerning religion and spirituality. This is an occupational hazard and if I ever wrote a book Ryan would probably say the same thing about my grasp of law. The Sisterhood which governs the village seems to take its reference from the sisterhood of Catholic nuns; the Bible Mary is forced to read seems to be the Christian Bible. Because the purpose and power of the Sisterhood are so roundly questioned in the first part of the book, I expected religion and spirituality to be a theme throughout. Mary expresses her disdain for the religion in which she's been brought up, but there's no further development. Since my field is religion, I would have liked to have seen this thread continue throughout the story.
Then again, maybe Ryan will explore it more in the second installment of Mary's story, which will be released in 2010. And maybe by then I'll have desensitized enough that I can enjoy Ryan's excellent writing without resenting the fact that she writes well enough to bring zombies into my bedroom.
So. I highly rate this book, despite the fact that I do not consider zombie stories pleasant reading. Whoever said zombies were "out" is in for a shock when Forest of Hands and Teeth is released March 10. I'll leave it up to you whether it's a pleasant shock or not, but thanks to Carrie Ryan, zombies are definitely back "in."
Other reviewers: Carrie at Carrie's YA Bookshelf