The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan

Forest of Hands and Teeth cover
Yes, I read a zombie novel! Call it YA science fiction and you can get me to read anything. In this version of the zombiepocalypse, the dead Returned and the world was overrun generations ago. Mary’s village beat back the zombies — the Unconsecrated, as they call them — far enough to build a fence, and as far as they know, they are the only people left alive in the world.

Their village is run by a group of creepy nuns called the Sisterhood, who rule everyone with an iron fist shaped like the Bible. And you can’t blame them, really — there’s not a lot of room for individualism or free will when the constant soundtrack to your life is zombie moans. But Mary is an individual, and her duty to her village is not enough to squelch her dreams of what lies beyond the fence (and, of course, true love).

This is a literate zombie novel with a flawed heroine, not an axe-wielding Lara Croft badass. For that alone it deserves credit and notice. The writing can be over-dramatic, but it just makes Mary more believable. You can totally imagine any romantic teenage girl of your acquaintance writing breathlessly in her diary, “I wonder if this is it. If these steps will be the last that I will ever take. If I am finally paying for my curiosity and stubbornness and impetuousness.” You know, if she were living in a village surrounded by zombies.

The world-building, on the other hand, could use some work. It’s an original world, and I wanted it to be more fleshed out!

Slightly spoilery
Why did the dead Return in the first place? What made Gabrielle a special speedy zombie? It’s implied that the Sisters experimented on her — why? What other secrets were they hiding? How was the village built, and how did it survive and maintain the fence after all supplies were cut off? How exactly does the Infection work, and why can’t it spread by blood contact with an Infected but not Turned person?

Some of these things are places where Ryan probably just didn’t think through the science as much as a world-building nut like myself would prefer. Some of the questions about the history of the world, though, I bet she has answers for that she didn’t share with us. I wanted the classic “Look, I found a diary/newspaper which will explain it all!” scene. We almost get that a couple of times, but then zombies attack and Mary doesn’t have time to read it all. Such a tease.

Also reviewed at: Dear Author, Presenting Lenore, and of course, The Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse.

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2 Responses to The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan

  1. Sam says:

    I’ll be disappointed but ok if there aren’t answers to the history or science questions. If there isn’t more development of Gabrielle’s story or the Sisterhood’s suspicious activities, though, that will seem like a massive wasted opportunity.

  2. Lenore says:

    You definitely had the same world-building questions I did. Maybe they’ll be answered in the companion novel?

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