REVIEW: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

It’s the publishing season again!  Last week was Random House (see my recap) and this week was HarperCollins.  In between was a dinner on Monday night, hosted by Random House at Beacon in NYC, to celebrate Carrie Ryan’s upcoming book The Forest of Hands and Teeth. 

While I tried my damnedest to read the whole book before the event, I was only about halfway through once Monday night rolled around.  Luckily no one spoiled the ending for me (though Ryan’s editor, Krista Marino, kind of did when she told me the projected title of the companion book…which I won’t share here*).  Carrie Ryan** was as sweet and gracious as can be, and she seemed genuinely excited and flattered by all the attention.

So how is the book?  Here’s my take:

First, let it be stated that I don’t do horror.  I just don’t.  And I don’t do fantasy.  Yet there have been particular books that have forced me out of those prejudices, much to my delight: Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Twilight, Graceling, among others.  Well, add The Forest of Hands and Teeth to that genre-busting list.  I hate to even tell you this because I don’t want you to shut down on me, but you do need to know that this is a zombie book.  Now, Ryan never refers to them as such: throughout the book, they’re only called the Unconsecrated, or the dead, etc.  But you pick up on the zombie thing pretty fast. 

Forget that, though.  This is a story about love, self-preservation, dreaming about a bigger world “out there”, religion, authority, family, hope, faith…I could go on and on.  Which is why I predict right now that this book is going to be hugely popular.  It has a little something for everyone and leaves enough open-ended questions and leaves enough secrets unrevealed that you can use your imagination…and it also makes you want more.  If the sequel had been available when I finished this, I would have immediately picked it up.

Mary has lived in a fenced-in village all her life, but her mother has always told her stories about the ocean and cities of tall buildings, all of which existed before the Return.  All Mary knows is the closely structured world run by the Sisterhood, protected by the Guardians, who keep the perimeter secure from the Unconsecrated.  But when Mary’s family is destroyed, she must make a choice between the Sisterhood and marriage with a man she does not love.  All the while, Mary wants to know what lies beyond the perimeter of her tiny village.  Is there an ocean out there?  And how can it be reached when the Unconsecrated are a constant and relentless threat in the forest?  Even when surrounded by so much death, Mary wants to live.

I don’t want to give away too much because – here’s the bad news – the book doesn’t come out until March 2009.  I know, I know!  Sorry to whet your appetite like this.  But this book is un-put-down-able, giving readers character development and plot in equal measure.  Not to mention that I was on the subway when a certain character dies (oh, come on!  I’m not giving anything away…it’s a book about zombies, for heaven’s sake!  You know people are going to die!)…and let’s say that I tooootally cried on the train.  I got a few funny looks.

Now, is the book perfect?  Of course not.  Mary’s constant back-and-forth can make things drag a bit: one minute she wants to risk everything to get to the ocean, then she does an about-face and goes into a downward spiral of self-doubt and self-defeat…then she’s back to being all bold and trying to get to the ocean again…then back…  But combined with the supporting characters, the constant moaning of the Unconsecrated, and the death of characters you wouldn’t expect, it’s a quibble.  Not too mention that, even though this personality flaw of Mary’s gets annoying, I still think it’s a fairly realistic reaction to what is happening around her.

I'm not normally a fan of posting reviews of a book so far ahead of the scheduled publication date.  However, just like when I reviewed Graceling months ahead of time, I’m making another exception here.  The hype is completely deserved, and people should be talking about this book now.  Brava to Carrie Ryan!


* It was so cool to sit next to Krista!  Normally, at the previews, Random House has their editors up on a platform, and we librarians don’t get a chance to ask them about their specific books.  So it was fun to get Krista’s perspective on this book.  Not to mention that she’s a fellow California native…

** Carrie's website has some friggin scary forest pictures on her site...you can practically hear the moans of the Unconsecrated when you look at them.  *shiver*  


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Jennifer said...

Sounds kind of like a cross between M. Night Shyamalan's The Village and I Am Legend. I've never read a zombie book before (I Am Legend calls them vampires, oddly enough) but this sounded intriguing. If I can remember come March, I'll pick it up!

Erin said...

You've sold me on this one.