Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (NY: Delacorte Press, 2009).

Mary's mother and father aren't dead, but they're not alive anymore either. They're outside the fences that surround the village, separating it from the Forest, because of they've been infected and are Unconsecrated. The Guardians tend the fences and kill any Unconsecrated that get too close. The Sisters dictate the rules. Mary understands all of this, including the choice that is foisted on her after her mother's departure and her brother's dismissal of her--she has to join the Sisterhood. No one has claimed her as a wife--even Harry has decided against her after what her mother did. But Mary hadn't wanted to be Joined to Harry anyway; she'd always loved Travis, Harry's brother. And even more than that, Mary had always loved the stories her mother told her about the ocean beyond the fences and the Forest where there was freedom from the oppressive rules and restrictive fences. Everyone tells Mary that these are just stories, but Mary believes and yearns to leave. The arrival of someone from beyond the fences reinforces Mary's belief and when circumstances lead her to flee the village, she runs with the hope of finding something other than death.

What would you do if there was a zombie apocalypse, if the Undead were taking over the world? Mary lives in one postapocalyptic cell, and it's a rigid, frightening reality for her. Ryan artfully blends action, adventure, horror, and romance to narrate Mary's story. The novel drags a bit at the beginning as Mary endures some time with the Sisters, but it picks up a lot once she leaves the cloister and begins her escape. The romance itself--Mary's nursing of Travis in the Cathedral and their reunion while fleeing--is fairly muted compared to the wild zombie chases and harrowing escapes during the long journey away from the Village. I enjoyed the uncertainty of not knowing what the characters would find as they traveled further away from their old home. I usually avoid zombie stories, but this one had enough dystopic elements, especially the religious fanaticism, to keep me interested--and not totally grossed out! Recommended for ages 12 & up. Mild sexual situations, violence.

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