The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Reading Level:: Young Adult
Pages: 308
Publisher: March 10th 2009 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

"We are our own memory-keepers and we have failed ourselves. It is like that game we played in school as children. Sitting in a circle, one student whispers a phrase into another student's ear and the phrase is passed around until the last student in the circle repeats what she hears, only to find out it is nothing like what it is supposed to be. That is our life now."

There was a time when there was an entire world outside the village. Cities, with buildings that scraped the sky, full of life and people, stretching all the way to the ocean. Before the Return, before the world became infected. Now there is only the village, protected by an elaborate system of fencing that keeps the infected, the Unconsecrated out. There is nothing outside the village- so the Sisters, the keepers of history, those that rule the village in the name of their god, say. You are born in the village, you live, you marry, you have children, you serve God, and pray every day that the fences hold. But you never, ever question what's beyond the fences, and you believe only what you're told to believe.

Mary's mother told her stories of the ocean, a seemingly endless body of water that stretches further than the imagination. Her whole life Mary has listened to these tales with a longing so intense that at times she can almost hear the waves and taste the salt. The ocean is her dream, the thing she secretly desires most, but as with most dreams, it is completely unattainable. Unattainable because the dream world that holds the ocean no longer exists, there is only her village and the masses of Unconsecrated that claw incessantly at the gates, hungering for the lives inside it.

The fences are made by man, and as such are fallible, and one day, they fail. The people of the village take to the trees, as swarms of Unconsecrated flood into the village, ending lives, ending futures, ending a history. With the village gone and only one path left out of it, a path protected and kept secret by the Sisterhood- Mary is faced with an impossible choice- stay and take whatever is left of her life in the village or leave, go beyond the fences, into the forest and perhaps, to a place she has only dreamed of.

This book scared the crap out of me. Not only was it a society ruled with an iron hand by the church that will not allow itself to be questioned, but it was a society, trapped inside a fence, endlessly fighting off ARMIES OF DEAD PEOPLE. That's right children. Zombies. Now when someone says "Zombie" to me I giggle, zombies aren't scary and the very idea is rather absurd- until I read this book.


Horrific, graphic and heartbreaking things happen in this book. I could give you more of a summary but the story's events were written to unfold systematically and I wouldn't want to upset the system. I was swept right along with the story and I couldn't put it down until it was over.

Mary is a very, very diverse character. We have a youth questioning the gospel preached by the church, not willing to live blindly believing lies. We have a young girl caught in an impossible love triangle that could very well rip apart the lives of so many people, families and friends. We have a human being that witnesses the horrible extent that people will go to in order to maintain control, and we have a very selfish little girl who puts her desires ahead of everything and everyone, even those closest to her. The subject of Mary's selfishness is the one thing I disagree on in other reviews I've read. Yes she was willing to sacrifice anything and anyone for her dream, but wouldn't you rather she did that than settle? Even if it protects others is that ultimate self-sacrifice, giving up the part of you that makes you You worth it? I'm proud of Mary and her realization that settling on something that can never be what you want, never complete you is far worse than what you may have to do to be who you are, or in this case, get to where you are meant to be.
"...I can feel how his body shakes and I know that he is crying. For me, for Beth. And I wonder if there was ever a crueler world than this one that forces us to kill the people we love most."

There are countless holes in this story. I won't lie to you, it is flawed but I loved it. I am completely enamoured of Ryan's prowess at storytelling. She had a lot of explaining that needed to be done that she didn't do, but even realizing that it never once distracted me from the story. How could I with such writing:

"Tonight my body pulses with awareness as I kneel by his bed, our fingers intertwined. We've been sharing each other's breath for what seems like weeks now even though it's only been a few moments. It's as if there is infinity between our lips and we will never actually touch. Like math, where dividing by half can last for eternity."

I don't normally read the next book in a series immediately after finishing the previous books. I usually like to just let it sit, let the story and my feelings for it marinate while I read other things. When this book was over it left me with a good book hangover so intense that only another drink from the story could revive me, so I picked up The Dead Tossed Waves and I'm reading it now.

3 thoughts?:

bookaholic April 8, 2010 at 11:44 PM  

It certainly seems like a 5 starer!

Melissa April 9, 2010 at 12:54 PM  

Zombies are scary is an understatement. This book terrified me as well. You going to read the sequel?

Lily Child April 9, 2010 at 3:48 PM  

Great review! I am glad you enjoyed this! I had a few issues with it, but enjoyed the second in the series a bit more. I look forward to your review of TDTW!!!

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