From: the public library, yep.
In a nutshell:
Mary lives in a village that is fenced in to keep out the Unconsecrated (a.k.a zombies) who live in the forest. When her mother becomes one of the Unconsecrated, Mary becomes a ward of the Sisterhood, the religious and civil authorities of the village. Her curiosity about the outside world, and particularly her desire to see the ocean, makes her an object of suspicion to the Sisters. Meanwhile, as she and her friends have come of age to marry, romantic complications also occupy her mind.
When unthinkable disaster strikes the village, Mary and her friends must make some difficult choices to survive.
For this review, I’m going to look at The Forest of Hands and Teeth in comparison to the zombie stories I know. I came to the book already familiar with zombies. I have seen the movies Night of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later (and its sequel), and Shaun of the Dead. I’ve read and loved Max Brooks’ World War Z, which tells about world-wide zombie catastrophe in the form of oral history. Heck, I’ve even participated in a zombie walk.
Zombie narratives are certainly about the horror element, what with all the cannibalism and the spectre of loved ones resurrecting as mindless shells wanting to eat you. However, in my experience, successful zombie tales usually serve up some social commentary with the gore. The joke of Shaun of the Dead is that Shaun can’t tell that there are zombies at first, because prior to the outbreak, many people went about their days in a dull stupor. World War Z strikes a nerve as it describes government and military failures to respond to widespread disaster.
In this context of zombie-stories as social commentary, Carrie Ryan has set herself a challenge. By placing The Forest of Hands and Teeth far into the future, into an unfamiliar culture and society, she undercuts any commentary’s ability to strike home with the reader.
Indeed, the story’s tropes are more in line with a dystopian narrative than a zombie narrative. There is the closed-off nature of the village, with its strict rules and rituals. The heroine is determined to find out the truth about her village and the world, even if it puts her in peril. So, while The Forest of Hands and Teeth has zombies, I can’t really think of it as a zombie narrative.
Now I do like dystopian stories and there’s certainly nothing wrong with them. Still, I can’t help feeling like the point of zombies has been lost by combining it with this unfamiliar dystopian society. That said, Ryan does offers some tantalizing dystopian plot threads regarding the Sisterhood, their governing and beliefs. I was especially intrigued by their behavior to a visitor from outside the village.
Unfortunately, these somewhat promising storylines are given short shrift in favor of a really annoying love quadrangle. Mary loves Travis. Travis’ brother Harry loves Mary. Mary’s best friend Cass is tied to Travis. And so on. I was hoping this storyline would settle down as the body count got higher, but it persists despite the carnage, draining my sympathies for all of the characters as I read on. In particular, I struggled to understand Mary’s motivations and actions.
I did finish the book, so obviously I cared to know what happened in the end, but I was really disappointed when I finished. My thanks to Jenny of Jenny’s Books, whose recent ‘discontented’ review of The Forest of Hands and Teeth gave me the gumption to not hold back on my own reaction to the book.
So I don’t know if I’ll pick up the quasi-sequel, The Dead-Tossed Waves. I’ve read in some reviews that it’s better than this one. If you’ve read it, let me know how you think it compares.