Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review: Carrie Ryan's Forest of Hands and Teeth

It's been a few days, but that's what happens when you go out of town. I've picked up a few new PA books lately, but I need to ruminate on them a little more before I can effectively evaluate them. For now, I want to focus on one of my favorite Post-Zombie-Apocalypse books.

Most zombie stories focus on the events of the apocalypse itself (usually these days attributable to some sort of plague) or the events immediately after it (ie The Walking Dead). Very few actually deal with a world where zombies are taken for granted (or granite, if you like), as is the case with Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Set seven generations after a zombie plague hit the earth, the narrator lives in a tiny enclave of humanity within a forest of the dead (as well as a literal forest). Everyone in the village believes that their small community is the last bastion of humanity on earth--that they are literally all that is left of the world. The undead are a part of their lives, albeit a dangerous part.

This novel focuses on Mary, who longs to see the ocean--something she's only heard of and which others in her village no longer believe in. As their world has shrunken to include only what is inside the fences that protect their village, many people have come to believe that their never was another world--that the world has always been like it is, with the dead pressing against the fences longing for a taste of their flesh. Mary's life is bound, not only by the physical fence of the village, but by the archaic traditions, laid down by a religious group called the Sisterhood, and that people unquestioningly follow. When Mary's life takes an unseen detour, she discovers secrets long buried and paths both hidden and forgotten.

As a stand-alone novel, this book is wonderful. Mary pushes the envelope, refuses to accept the life that has been pre-written for her; she both literally and figuratively forges a new path, while losing and gaining a lot along the way. Whereas a lot of young adult fiction (and make no mistake, this is young adult fiction) has a main character who is too perfect, whose defects really aren't flaws at all (SEE Mary Sue), the main character in this book is flawed, and she does things that as readers we find a bit morally questionable. And in the end, she is incredibly selfish, but we like her for it; we appreciate it for its honesty. Of course, there are places where she is obnoxious as any teenager is obnoxious, but as an adult I'm not sure if it would be read as irritating by other teens.

There are so many elements in this book--the Sisterhood, the community, the fast ones, Gabrielle, relationships both romantic, friendly, and familial--but the the author manages to pull them together quite well without leaving anything out. There is, of course, a bit of ridiculousness somewhere around the middle of the book; when the characters find themselves stuck in a pair of adjacent houses, the energy to the story leaks like the air out of a tire--it completely fizzles. The forward motion that had been building in the book just dies and becomes stagnant. Eventually it builds again, but I can't help but think the book would have been better if that series of scenes had been shorter or arranged differently.

All in all, this is a good book for the PA fan who wants to zombify his or her life without all the typical zombie tropes. They provide a very real menace, but a very different menace from your typical zombie novel. This book is also the first in a series of companion novels that are loosely tied together; the second book is The Dead-Tossed Waves. Which I'll review another day. The third in the series is The Dark and Hollow Places, which arrives in hardback on March 22!
looks a bit like Summer Glau, no?  BTW, the movie rights have been optioned, but as of yet, nothing serious in the works.

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