It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that teenagers must love dystopian literature. They just love a little apocalypse. I’ve read some great YA books this year and it seems the best of them feature the world after some sort of cataclysmic end has occurred. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is probably the most heartbreaking, yet hopeful one I’ve read yet.
Mary lives in a small village in the middle of a very large forest with her mother. In many ways her life isn’t all that different from any other girl her age. She helps with the chores. She also has a brother, a sister-in-law and a best friend named Cassandra. But then, she’s very, VERY different. Her father went into the forest many days ago and she has all but given up hope of him coming home alive. Her village is controlled by a totalitarian and very religious group called The Sisterhood and is surrounded on all sides by a fence; a fence that is designed to keep out the Unconsecrated – a mass of mindless undead, hungry for the living flesh that lives on the inside, and who were unleashed many, many years ago by a mysterious and catastrophic incident.
“My mother used to tell me about the ocean. She said there was a place where there was nothing but water as far as you could see and that it was always moving, rushing toward you and then away. She once showed me a picture that she said was my great-great-great grandmother standing in the ocean as a child. It has been years since, and the picture was lost to fire long ago, but I remember it, faded and worn. A little girl surrounded by nothingness.”
Mary is a great character. Her mother has filled her head with tales of the ocean and the world before the Unconsecrated existed. Like all teenagers, she’s willful and very stubborn, but she’s also a dreamer and a doer, someone who isn’t afraid to take a chance to get what she wants. She dreams of seeing the ocean someday and there is nothing that will stand in her way. I would not have minded a little more strength in the secondary characters, but they were interesting in their own ways and were good supports for Mary. She was definitely the most well drawn of them all. She’s flawed, but you can’t help rooting for her.
This book starts with a bit of a bang (to put it mildly) and then it slows down a bit before speeding to the end. I liked that slow build up, as I thought it was a story that needed that slow, paced build up to the climax. There is a lot of background to get into, characters to meet, their history to learn, the history of the tiny village Mary lives in, the history of the Unconsecrated, the whole government, belief system and values to be set up…and I thought Ryan did a fantastic job. The slowness didn’t bother me a bit, because I found it all so FASCINATING. Even though the book is set in a very dystopian future, it felt very puritanical to me, which I liked about it. It felt very Nathanial Hawthorne meets George Romaro. But, please, please don’t let the “zombie” part put you off. While there are a few parts that will have you on the edge of your seat, it’s not as scary as you might fear. It’s not sugar-coated either, but really, I think you should give it a shot. For a first novel especially, I thought the writing was good. There were a few weak parts, a few questions I wouldn’t mind having answered, but I’m hoping they will be in the next part of the series. If you enjoyed recent YA read The Hunger Games, you will definitely like this book. I don’t compare the story or the writing, but more the FEELING I had reading each. Both left me breathless and anxious for more. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is nothing, if not a page-turner.
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