Carrie Ryan: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is the weirdest zombie story I’ve ever read. And it’s not just because the book never once uses the word “zombie.” It’s not even because the novel is set generations after the zombie’s victory over humanity.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth opens in a small village of humans surrounded by a forest filled by the Unconsecrated (better known as zombies). Between them the Sisterhood and the Guardians keep the village under tight strictures. As far as the villagers know, they are all that is left of humanity. The village and the forest comprise their entire world.

But some of the villagers have whispered stories to their children, knowledge not sanctioned by the sisters nor the guardians, about things that once existed — might still exist — beyond the forest. Mary’s mother told her of the ocean, and this vision compels her. Her restless, inquisitive nature inevitably brings her into conflict with the Sisterhood.

Like other writers of supernaturally themed or science fictional young adult fiction, Ryan explores her viewpoint character’s adolescent alienation. But what really set The Forest of Hands and Teeth apart for me is that Mary’s alienation is not literally manifested in some super power/curse or otherworldly heritage — Mary is just fundamentally a different sort of person from virtually all the villagers. Further, it’s remarkably cerebral for a zombie story. There are, ultimately, zombie attacks and some gripping action. But Ryan also establishes a compelling and odd blend of the pastoral and the claustrophobic, with the village tightly bound by the forest, and perhaps even more tightly bound by the Sisterhood. The Forest of Hands and Teeth reminded me much more of The Wicker Man than any zombie flick I’ve seen.

I found it creepy and (grimly) fun, although the dénouement felt a little rushed. Some readers might be impatient for the action to crank up, but that didn’t bother me at all.

needs more demons? no.

Published by therealsummervillain

likes: equality, making things easier to use, biking, jangle, distortion, monogamy dislikes: bigotry, policies that jeopardize people, lack of transparency

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