September 26, 2009
Rabid Reads "The Forest of Hands and Teeth" by Carrie Ryan
Title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan
Publisher: Delacorte Press; imprint of Random House Children's Books (2009)
Genre: Young Adult/Horror
I've only read eight books published in 2009 thus far, which is more new releases than I've ever read in the past, but of those eight Carrie Ryan's debut novel is my favorite, by far. The novel sets the bar pretty high in my estimation for any other '09 release I get the chance to read.
When I first caught wind of this novel, the premise of a teenaged girl making her way through a ravaged land, filled with zombies, perked my interest. And the cover for the North American release looked fetching, too. Then, I heard about a prominent element of romance in the story, and I started getting a sickly flashback to when I tried to read Twilight--I'm sorry, but I'm still sorely disappointed by that book. To read the novel finally, my expectations have been exceeded and any trepidations I had about the content withered and died.
Mary, the narrator of this story, lives in a village that is literally a gated community. Gated and fenced in because the world has been overtaken by the zombie hordes dubbed the Unconsecrated. For Mary and everyone living within the walls of the village, there is no world beyond the fences and the multitude of the walking dead. The lives they live are modest and focused primarily on the survival and propigation of what's left of humanity. The timeline for the story also occurs several generations after the Return (aka, the downfall of humanity).
The zombies have always been there, on the other side of the fence, for Mary and the others. Despite the occasional break in their defences, which they've accounted for in several ways through the guidance of the Sisterhood and the Guardians (think post-apocalyptic nunnery and sentinels), the moans of the Unconsecrated are just background noise to their daily lives. But, when Mary's mother ends up dying as a result of straying to close to the fence, and her brother seemingly disowns her, Mary is thrust into the custody of the Sisterhood. It is in their Cathedral that Mary witnesses some startling secrets held by the Sisters and what may lie beyond the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Beyond that, the novel throws a bevy of twists and turns at Mary and the supporting character to the point where you wonder if even the narrator will make it to the end of the story.
There is a kind of poetry to Carrie Ryan's prose that sucks you in from the very first page. The almost withdrawn attitude of Mary towards the Unconsecrated and certain people in her life, gives an ethereal feel to the story as it finds its bearings. Her anguish over the unfairness of life and love can seem overwrought at times, but it's tolerable and really helps vivify her ordeals. This novel may be marketed as "YA," but it is stunning how mature and compelling it really is compared to other titles that I might classify as truly "YA." If there are those among you who have held off on reading this because of its categorization, forget about it and go read this book.
Bleak is certainly an apt word to use when describing the tone of this novel, but I wouldn't say it was at all depressing. The story hinges on faith and adversity and sacrifice, which are topics attacked from all angles from beginning to end. While I thought the ending came off as a bit ambiguous, it seemed to fit and didn't leave me banging my fist in frustration--I got that out of my system at the end of the second act.
I've read there is a sequel due to be released in the spring of 2010. It makes sense in a way, as there are enough unanswered questions to allow for a follow-up without it seeming tawdry. I just hope it can make par with such a fine debut novel from Ryan. And, hey, The Forest of Hands and Teeth has been optioned to Seven Star Pictures, so a film is likely to come out in 2012-13. That's a movie I have my fingers crossed for.
If you've read this book, and yet have read a better '09 title, please tell me. Because I want to read the book from this year that's better than this.
Other reviews of this novel can be read at the following blogs: Addicted to Books; Carrie's YA Bookshelf; Confessions of a Wandering Heart; Fantastic Book Review; Fantasy Book Critic; Finding Wonderland; HorrorScope; Just Your Typical Book Blog