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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

“The Forest of Hands and Teeth” by Carrie Ryan (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Carrie Ryan is a graduate of Williams College and Duke University School of Law. A former litigator, she now writes full time. “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” is her first novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: 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 about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness.

When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, 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 in so much death?

CLASSIFICATION:The Forest of Hands and Teeth” is a post-apocalyptic tale of survival, zombies and love. Its M. Night Shyamalan’sThe Village” meets George A. Romero meets Stephenie Meyer

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 320 pages divided over thirty-six Roman-numbered chapters. Narration is in the first-person, exclusively via the protagonist Mary. “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” is self-contained, but there is ample scope for sequels, and the author is actually working on another book set in the same milieu.

March 10, 2009 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” via
Delacorte. Cover art provided by Jonathan Barkat. The UK version (see below) will be published by Gollancz on July 16, 2009.

ANALYSIS: Every once in a while, I come across a book that completely sucks me in from the very first page. Sometimes it’s because of a great opening line. Other times it’s because of the prose or an intriguing hook. In the case of Carrie Ryan’s debut novel, “The Forest of Hands and Teeth”, it was because of Mary’s heartfelt and compelling first-person narrative:

My mother used to tell me about the ocean. She said there was a place where there was nothing but water as far as you could see and that it was always moving, rushing toward you and then away. She once showed me a picture that she said was my great-great-great grandmother standing in the ocean as a child. It has been years since, and the picture was lost to fire long ago, but I remember it, faded and worn. A little girl surrounded by nothingness.

From the beginning of the novel when Mary loses a loved one and her in faith in God; to her time spent in the Sisterhood; to enduring a painful love quandary between her, her best friend Cass, and the brothers Harry & Travis; to finally embarking on a desperate quest in search of life outside of the Forest, Mary’s story is a haunting one, made all the more powerful by how expressive her thoughts and feelings are. For instance, when Mary feels pain, whether from the loss of a loved one or heartbreak, the reader feels that pain too. And it’s the same when Mary experiences discontent at her life in the village, affection for the man she loves, hope for the future, or any number of other emotions.

But “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” is not all about Mary, even if her eloquent narrative is the book’s best feature. For one, the vividly portrayed village setting with its fences, Guardians, Sisterhood, Vows of Eternal Constancy, and other rituals is very interesting, especially when secrets (Outsider, Fast Ones) come to light that make Mary and friends question the ‘truths’ they grew up with. “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” is also incredibly atmospheric, with the constant groaning and shuffling of the Unconsecrated adding a pervading sense of menace to an already dark and gloomy novel. Finally, the book is surprisingly horrific for a young adult title, not so much from a gory standpoint—although there is plenty of that—but more from a psychological one with a zombie baby, having to kill someone you love, and other scenes sure to linger in the reader’s mind…

Negatively, I just had a few minor issues with the book including some lulls in the pacing of the novel; a bunch of questions about the Return, the Sisterhood and the villages that were left unanswered; and how Mary, Cass, Harry, Travis, Mary’s brother Jed and his wife were the only ones to escape from the village—aside from a boy and a dog—which I felt was highly convenient, considering all of the drama between those characters. But overall, “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” is a novel with very few weaknesses.

CONCLUSION:The Forest of Hands and Teeth” may be marketed as a Young Adult title—which is evident by its accessibility and teen sensibilities—but don’t let such labels prevent you from reading this book. “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” is an astonishing debut, skillfully written by Carrie Ryan, poignantly narrated by Mary, powerfully unforgettable, and better than advertised. “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” is one of the best debuts of the year…


Jess (The Cozy Reader) said...

And a book I will be reading! Thanks for the great review!

Vickie said...

Thank you for finding this one and giving such a compelling review! Adding to my list....

Adam Whitehead said...

Interesting. Gollancz are publishing this one in the UK and sent me the ARC with no fanfare at all. I might bump this up the reading pile after this review!

Robert said...

You're welcome Jessica & Vickie :) I hope you enjoy the book!

Adam, I think Gollancz only recently acquired UK rights for the book in like the past couple of months or something, which could be why there's not that much fanfare. It's a terrific book though and I'm interested to see what you think about it if you decide to read it...

Anonymous said...

I picked up this book last night and didn't put it down until I finished it. It was incredible from the very first page. I'm a fan of YA literature, but you're right, this is for adults, too. And THE VILLAGE is the first thing I thought of reading this, except minus the crappy ending...these are real monsters, but theirs tricks too. I'm so sad I finished it because I wish I could keep on reading.

Anonymous said...

You know I wouldn't have picked this one up if it hadn't been for this glwoing review and the excerpt.

Young adult? usually not my thing? Girl main character? Same story. But this manages to overcome those hurdles.

Robert said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the book anonymous :) The Village comparison is pretty much unavoidable, but like you said, it's minus the crappy ending ;)

Calibander, I don't think you'll be disappointed with the book. Of course, I could be wrong...

Anonymous said...

I finished this book 2 days after I got it and loved it from the start. Some questions were left unanswered but I'm holding out hope that there may yet be a sequel.

Robert said...

JD, there's definitely going to be another book set in the same setting, but I don't think it will be a direct sequel. Still, I'm sure it will answer more of our questions...

Heather said...


Found this blog by doing a search for reviews on The Forest of Hands and Teeth... and love your insight, I'm following... and look forward to reading some of the things you've reviewed that I'd never even heard of :)

Croaker said...

Thank you for the review. Now I know what to buy this weekend.

Reading the review for this book somehow reminds me of another book I have read long ago, the title of which I have *desperately* been trying to remember, to no avail. Perhaps you can help me.

Here goes:
The main protagonist is a girl. The story is told through her dairy. The setting is apocalyptic, I think. There are horrible things happening in the city where city lives. Violent crimes and the likes. The violence described is very graphic. There is a particular gang of young criminals (all girls, I think, not sure) whom everyone fears. In the end, the protagonist joins that gang. I clearly remember the last entry in her diary reads "Goodbye dear diary, I am joining The [name of the gang]."

It was a great book that left a big impression on me. However, it was a French version that I borrowed from the library years ago. I am pretty sure the original language is English. I don't remember the title of the book nor its author. I thought about going back to the library and check out the entire mystery/thriller/ and horror sections. Problem is: I don't remember which library I borrowed it from :(

Someone helps me, please!!! This has been bothering me for a very long time.

Anonymous said...

I read this book, and I loved the plot. But it drove me crazy because of how CURIOUS Mary was. Otherwise, it was an amazing book.


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