Author: Carrie Ryan
Page count: 320
Genre: young adult, post-apocalyptic, zombie
Copy for review compliments of the public library
50 words or less: Mary lives in a fortified village, one of the last bastions of civilization in the wake of the zombie apocalypse and the resulting wandering army of the Unconsecrated. Mary is tired of just existing and ventures forth in search of love, hope, dreams and a life of her own.
I'd heard really good things about The Forest of Hands and Teeth so I was pleased to find a copy at my library. I'm a complete puss when it comes to horror movies, blood and guts and all that stuff; I figured book form would be more acceptable to my admittedly delicate sensibilities.
While you don't visually see anyone getting mutilated or eaten while reading, my mind's eye definitely needs a cup of chamomile tea because the imagery in the book is absolutely riveting. I didn't come into the book expecting it to be an overwhelming triumph of human sticktuitiveness over adversity with a tightly packaged happily ever after or anything, but the level of despair that this novel undertakes to communicate is waaaay down there. It has to be, what with the end of the world as they knew it arriving from the mouths of zombies and all that.
I guess I should back up a little. The Unconsecrated, AKA the undisputed bad guys of this story, are an army of the undead who (slowly) wander the Forest, looking for people to eat. The few regular folks who are left live in villages like the one Mary lives in, with the Sisterhood (the spiritual leaders) controlling everything down to the flow of information, and the Guardians attempting to maintain the fences that ostensibly keep everyone safe. Suffice it to say, that whole plan goes to crap in a big way, which means that Mary, Harry (her fiancé,) Jed (her brother,) Travis (her real love,) and Cass (her best friend) end up running for it when their village is invaded. As the story progresses the relationships between the various characters grow and change and get decidedly knotty at time, all playing out against a seemingly hopeless situation where life sucks, and then you get eaten.
There are a ton of interesting themes woven into this book and they span a variety of different arenas, from the relatively standard "life in a dystopic society" to "young love" to "surviving the zombie apocalypse." Some of the other ones that I found a little more interesting were the dichotomy of freedom and responsibility, the difference between living and surviving, the role of religion and government in influencing and controlling personal freedom and choice, and dealing with the unknown. Probably the most elusive element of the story and possibly the most important one is hope, especially how to get it and keep it when those around you have seemingly lost theirs.
I don't think The Forest of Hands and Teeth is for everyone. It's not a fun book, at least not in a frivolous way. It makes you think about yourself, about other people, and what you would do if the rules of life and society as you understood them were suddenly gone and replaced by...nothing. This book does make a good palate cleanser if you've read a lot of romance novels lately where everything ends up okay in the end despite almost ludicrous indications to the contrary and you're starting to get jaded, however.
Overall Grade: A
I was feeling the need for something a bit more cheerful after finishing this book, since the good news at the end of it is you ain't dead yet, so to speak. So, in keeping with the zombie theme of this review, here are two excellent zombie-related YouTube offerings. The first is a gentleman signing along to the Jonathan Coulton song "Re: Your Brains" (many thanks to Mandy at She Reads for this gem) and if you haven't listened to Jonathan Coulton before, you should; the second is in my opinion the best part of one of my favorite zombie movies, Shaun of the Dead. Hopefully someone will post a better quality video soon, but until that happens I guess you have to watch the movie!