The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan

the forest of hands and teethPublisher: Delacorte
Genre: YA Horror
Call number: Y Ryan

For those of you sick of vampires, how about zombies? Who doesn’t love the moaning, shuffling undead these days? Unlike vampires, zombies are rarely romanticized (at least not yet – I am still waiting for someone to write the ultimate zombie romance novel, from the perspective of the zombies, of course), and the zombies in this novel are gloriously frightening. And that’s just one of the reasons I love this book. (One of the others is the evocative title.)

Mary feels like she’s growing up in a cage. Her village, surrounded by fences, lies in a clearing in a dense forest. The fences protect the villagers from the Unconsecrated, the ravenous horde of undead littering the forest, but the protection comes with a cost –stagnation. The villagers have long forgotten whatever cataclysmic event caused the Change, and they exist with simple, structured dreams of marriage and progeny, controlled by the religious Sisterhood. Mary, not content with the simple life, dreams of the ocean her mother told stories about before she too became Unconsecrated, dreams of escape from her arranged marriage, her love for her fiancé’s brother, her own brother’s abandonment, and the yoke of the Sisterhood. When the Unconsecrated finally breach the fence, Mary has her chance, but will she find what she seeks, or is there no place free of the Unconsecrated?

Like any good zombie story, this book is full of scary monsters, near hopeless circumstances, narrow escapes that leave you gasping, and plenty of death. However, it also spends enough time developing the characters (especially Mary) to have tragedy as well as thrilling action. (I will not lie – I cried during several scenes. You probably will not, because nobody cries over fiction as much as I do.) And it’s not just tragedy over people dying horrible, zombie-related deaths – the relationships among the small group of people who survive the village massacre and strike out on their own are complicated, full of love and heart-ache in equal measure. Ryan manages to work in a romance for Mary during their dangerous search for safety, and it works (though it is a little obsessive). I will also admit to not liking all of the characters, but I did understand them as people, and that’s an important distinction. There are a few places where I started to wear of Mary’s rather self-absorbed, introspective narrative and her willful ignorance of some important truths, but overall, this is a really well-paced, thrilling zombie story that rises above the competition.

Yes, it’s bleak. Don’t read this if you want happy, shiny endings, because the number one truth of an effective zombie story is that there isn’t any. Still, Mary does learn a few things and ends up in a new place, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens to her in the next book, which has another excellent title: The Dead-Tossed Waves.

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