Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Review of *The Forest of Hands and Teeth* by Carrie Ryan

I was just perusing the back cover blurbs to find a beginning for this review and I read one by Justine Larbalestier (whose book "Liar" I REALLY must pick up again. I keep reading great reviews and I don't think I gave it a good enough chance the first time around):

Dark and sexy and scary. Only one of the Unconsecrated could put this book down.

I don't really know what she means and at the same time it's perfect and funny and completely captures the reading experience of The Forest of Hands and Teeth. You would have to be a zombie, whose main interest in this book is eating the flesh of people, not to be completely taken by this book. And it's true; your interests would have to lie at the extreme of eating people not to make reading this book the most important drive in your life, at least for the time it takes to consume it. I love it.

Anyway on to the review. I really enjoyed The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Admittedly I struggled at the start. Mary's mother has recently become infected by the Unconsecrated and sent to live behind the fence that keeps the village safe from their poison. Her brother is married and Mary goes to live with The Sisterhood, a group of women who hold all the secrets. There is a vestige of religion about The Sisterhood, but theirs is a more social arrangement; they live as nuns and pass on doctrine, but there is nothing spiritual about their leadership. Actually they are pretty creepy and controlling. Wonderfully written in the book, especially Sister Tabitha who is a piece of work. I'm thinking of one scene in particular where Mary learns, quite viscerally, where the secret rooms of the Cathedral lead to and what she has to look forward to if she can't comply with the Sisterhood's rules. Very well done.

Mary of course struggles with her fate. Who wouldn't? The Sisterhood runs a tight shift and it is all Mary can do to sneak in to see Travis, who is convalescing in the Cathedral after a fall. He is the brother of her intended fiancee and is betrothed to her best friend Cass. Yes, it gets complicated. Mary and Travis spend quite a while at the Cathedral, secreting their feelings for one another at night when no one supposedly sees. But what I find is the most satisfying relationship depicted in the book is that of Mary and Gabrielle, the unnaturally fast Unconsecrated.

One night Mary witnesses a girl about her age wander through the gate in the fence that leads from who knows where. The Sisters harbour the girl in the Cathedral but never announce her arrival from outside. Mary burns to know where she came from and what lies outside her village, beyond the forest crawling with the infected. Of all of the connections between the characters in the story, I really liked how Mary spoke of Gabrielle as almost a soul mate, as messed up as it becomes. Here's a part I particularly like:
"Gabrielle!" I shout. Soon enough I hear the sound of an animal charging through the underbrush, and then her bright red vest breaks from the trees and she throws herself against the fence. It's not her name she responds to, but my existence. She does not come because I call her, but because she craves me. Because she is mindless and hungry and knows nothing else but desire for human flesh...
I think about slipping a finger through the fence and into her mouth. Letting her consume me and infect me. Being done with the path and the longing that's too painful to bear...
"Who are you?" I ask. Her eyes are now scratched and a milky blue and I know that she does not see me.
Tears drip down my cheeks, splatter on my shirt. "Is it easier on the other side?" I ask her, still tracing her pinky with my own fingers. She tries to grab my hand, but hers is too mangled for such dexterity.
The dotdotdots are mine; I've abridged the page for ease of quoting. I really enjoyed Mary's connection with the Unconsecrated. In this passage she's actually wondering if she should just give up and let go. She's holding on so strongly to her desire for an Outside world that she likens herself to the infected because of the primal energy of her desire. It's not for human flesh but it stems from the same impetus. Pretty smart zombie book.
The forest and fencing itself is also a great setting for a thriller. There's a bit of a code or a trick to solve too. So I was pulled through the narrative more by the mystery of Mary's world, the character of Gabrielle, and the artful creation of the Unconsecrated than the love triangle (square?). There are some great scenes in the book that are scary and tense because you have this mindless biting force pressing in on you. And even if they can't use their opposable thumbs or move very fast, they're still gonna get in eventually. Which I think is at the heart of a true zombie story.


Rhiannon Hart said...

Sexy?? Okay Larbalestier, you've lost me there. I don't think that's a very apt description.

Great review though, and I'm glad you enjoyed the book.

One more complaint: I don't like the paperback cover at all. The girl looks kinda skanky, and Mary is anything but skanky.

Cecelia said...

I'm going to agree with Rhiannon on the 'sexy' bit. The hype and blurbs had me excited for this one, and unfortunately I couldn't love it.

I think you've written a fun and enthusiastic review, though, and I know there are a lot of people out there who ADORED this book. I'm glad you liked it!

Will you be reading the next one, Dead Tossed Waves? I'm going to check it out to see where the story goes next...

Mandy said...

Rhiannon: Yeah, instead of sexy I would say "visceral" or "get away from my flesh!".
I do agree with you about the papeback cover. The top cover girl looks more like Mary. She looks like River from Firefly a bit.

Celi.a: Yeah I read your review of this on It was definately fair. It took me a bit to get into this book, but once the breach happened I was catapulted into the action. And I was very impressed with Carrie's depiction of the zombies and Mary's relationship to them. I'm definately going to check out Dead-Tossed Waves.
The thing about "reviewing" books for me is that I'd rather just talk about my experience of reading the book. I don't want to put anyone off to reading a book that they might love. I actually believe people should read everything for themselves. I read reviews, obviously, but take them more as a reader's experience.

Tales of Whimsy said...

I'm too scared to read this one. Great review :)

Donna Gambale said...

Thanks for the review. I have this one out from the library, and I'm curious to see what I think of it.

Andrea said...

It was a great, scary zombie book but not sexy, no.


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