Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a bleak post-apocalyptic tale. It portrays a world overrun by the undead, known as unconsecrated in the book. The main character, Mary, and her village are separated from the flesh eaters, the masses that form the forest of hands and teeth, by fences and gates. The fences and gates don't just protect them from the unconsecrated, though, they also isolate them from whatever is outside of the gates. Still, life in the village continues even with the constant threat of a breach. Mary should be getting married, having children, and being part of that life, but she can't settle for a happy existence. She dreams beyond the walls, dreams of following the literally forbidden path out of the village, and dreams of the ocean her mother has told her about her whole life.
Mary's father left the village years ago. Her mother keeps constant vigil at the fence, searching for her husband and never losing hope that he will return unharmed, a hope long abandoned by Mary and her brother Jed. One day Mary is delayed from attending her mother. This is the day she wanders too close to the fence after presumably spotting their father. She is bitten and becomes infected. She asks to be allowed to turn into an unconsecrated, let out of the gate to join her husband. Jed blames Mary for not being with their mother and for allowing her to become unconsecrated, for not killing her and saving her soul.
After being turned out of her house by Jed and rejected by her sole romantic suitor, Mary is taken in by the Sisterhood. The Sisters control every aspect of life in the village. They hold the knowledge that noone else knows, protect the village, and make sure life continues. While under the Sisters' wing, Mary learns of a visitor from outside the gates, a woman named Gabrielle, a woman wearing a strange red vest, a woman who has seen the ocean. A woman who soon becoms the fastest unconsecrated of them all and the eventual downfall of the village, the one who forces them down the forbidden path.
Like all zombie stories, this is a story about futility. Anyone who dies doesn't stay that way, but comes back, creating an unending enemy. This is a story of dreaming beyond the walls of your ordinary life. There isn't anything left to hope for, but that doesn't mean giving up hope. The messages of following your own path, dreaming, growing up are all very heavy and anvil-like in their impact. Mary's romantic triangle doesn't help make her sympathetic when honestly she is a little dull and dumb-witted. It was a fairly easy read and there were moments of suspense that made you fear for the characters even when you knew there was no hope left.

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