Thursday, October 28, 2010

REVIEW: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

By Carrie Ryan
320 pages
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Published March 2009


In Mary's world, there are simple truths.

The Sisterhood always knows best.

The Guardians will protect and serve.

The Unconsecrated will never relent.

And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village.

The fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

But slowly, Mary's truths are failing her. She's learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power. And, when the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness.

Now she must choose between her village and her future, between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded by so much death?


If you ever thought a book couldn’t wax philosophical with a zombie infestation as background, you are so wrong.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is an absolutely remarkable debut novel by author Carrie Ryan.  In it, Mary is a member of a community confined to space within a forest, protected by a wire fence that constantly is bombarded by the Unconsecrated; in modern day terminology, we are talking about zombies.  I pictured a much less friendly version of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village as I read.  The members of Mary’s village occupy three distinct groups: the Sisters, who set up structure of the village, its rules and control day-to-day life of the inhabitants; the Guardians, who protect the village from the Unconsecrated and are under direct control of the Sisters; and everyone else, who all perform various functions within the village.  There is no leaving the village, both by direct order of the Sisters and because of fear of the Unconsecrated.  Mary seems to be something of a quiet maverick, as is her mother.  Both are believers that the world was a far differnt place before the Return of the Unconsecrated, a world where the ocean existed and people were free to make their own choices.  Such thinking threatens to undermine the structure and carefully planned way of life which the Sisters have implemented.  However, all this starts to crumble when a series of events give Mary the opportunity to seek the answers to the questions she has always held in her heart.
At the core of the book is the idea that personal freedom is life, and the loss of free will is death.  This idea is constant throughout the novel.  The zombies, who are literally the living dead, are mindless shells that have no reason for existing other than to consume human flesh – literally, they constantly seek to destroy life.  Mary sees her compliance in living within the confines of the village as death, and seeks a life filled with personal choice.  As Mary starts to wonder which side of the fence is better to live on, other ideas come into play:
*life without love is not a life worth living
*all choices have consequences, both good and bad
*ignorance only protects for so long, and ultimately causes death
*taking risks over playing it safe
*personal freedom vs. the greater good
*distrust of authority

You will not always like Mary as a character – desperation and desire pull cruelly practical actions from various characters in the book, and she is no exception.   I personally felt that Ryan never truly answers whether Mary’s actions were the right ones; only that Mary, and everyone living, has the right to personal freedom.  However, the right to make personal choices comes at a cost, sometimes to those whom Mary loves. 

What I primarily like about this book is that it is truly Mary’s story.  There is forbidden love, unrequited love, sibling issues, and best friend jealousies.  Despite this, this novel is about Mary and her decision on whether she lives a life filled with choices she can live with, or whether she takes a risk and lives the life of choices she will not, cannot live without.

This is a haunting novel, and if you ever had the question, “Which I is I,” you will find it an invigorating read.  Ryan is a wonderful writer of vivid imagery, sound dialogue, and she is able to give us intrusive insights into Mary’s conscience and soul.  I look forward to reading her other works and heartily recommend this book.

Overall: A

Favorite Quotes

As a child I dreamed of love and sunlight and a world beyond the Forest.  I dreamed of the ocean, of a place untouched by the Return.  And suddenly I wonder what right we have to believe our childhood dreams will come true.  My body aches with this realization.  With this truth.  It is as if I have cut something important away from myself.  The loss is overwhelming.”
Pg. 105

“Getting lost and tangled together in the late-afternoon sun as if there were nothing else in the world that mattered besides twisting along a path that led to nowhere but the middle of a field.  When finding the end of the path was not quite as important as the journey to getting there.”
Pg. 119

“’The Sisterhood had it wrong,” he says.  “It’s not about surviving.  It should be about love.... that’s what makes this life worth living.  When you live with it every day.  Wake up with it, hold on to it during the thunder and after a nightmare.”
Pg. 155

“. . . I realize that sometimes death comes before you expect it.  That while we are rarely prepared for our friends, family and loved ones to die, we are never prepared for our own deaths.  Never prepared to reconcile our own regrets.”
Pg. 184

“Suddenly, the roof of the attic is too close.  This house is not enough for me anymore.  I know that this solitude will never settle through me bones and I realize that I still long for the ocean and it’s not enough to just sit in this life and be safe.”
Pg. 211

A poem this book made me think of:

In a Dark Time
By Theodore Roethke

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood--
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.
What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks--is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.
A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is--
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.
Dark,dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.


  1. ha ha, I too had a moment where I paused while reading this book and realised - hey, this zombie book is real literature!!!! I was mildly disapointed that the dead tossed waves looses some of the tone of TFOHAT, but it's still a great book, and I can't wait for the third one! Hope you can get a copy of Saltwater Vampires soon too.

  2. I haven't read the second one yet, but it's on my list. Thanks for the heads up! Love your blog - just became a follower!

    Haha, I am working every angle I can have to get my hands on that book! I really hope it gets released in the States - shipping costs from an Aussie books store are insane!

  3. Loved this review! I need to read this series, I love the sound of it though zombies aren't my favorite, but it's clear there are more important elements and messages coming through than just creepy flesh eaters. Definitely going to be picking this one up!

  4. Wonderful! I am glad you liked the review! It's certainly a serious book - no humor in it, but I loved it all the same.

    Thanks for reading!

  5. Great review! The first thing I thought of when I started reading was Shyamalan's The Village, so I was super-excited when you said this book reminded you of it, too. I haven't read this series yet, but I can't wait to get my hands on it!

  6. Very interesting review. It has made me want to make this my first "zombie book." i enjoyed the movie "The Village" as well. I recently read Justin Cronin's The Passage, which - with its "compund-like" setting for part of the book - reminded me of this as well.

    This is my first visit to your blog. Very nice! Of course, I'm biased in favor of any "biblio" blogs... :-)


  7. Oh, I agree, Jay. 'Biblio' blogs are indeed the best!

    Glad you liked the review! I will have to look up "The Passage" :)


  8. Just reporting back that I did read and finish the book. Thank you for leading me to it. Although I didn't feel as strongly about it as you, I did enjoy it thoroughly. Have you read the 'sequel' yet? I think I will, as this book ended a little too abruptly for me.

  9. Haha! I totally pictured Mary's village as a scarier version of The Village! How funny!

  10. Hi
    Enjoyed your review. I loved this book and so did my daughter and friends. It's original and gripping - did you read the Dead Tossed Waves. Sorry if I missed your review. I took a look but couldn't see one. You must read it. It's so good.
    Lynn :D