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The Forest of Hands and Teeth Paperback – February 9, 2010
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Scott Westerfeld is the author of three sets of books for young adults, including the Uglies series, the Midnighters series, and a series of stand-alone novels set in contemporary New York, including So Yesterday, Peeps, and The Last Days. Both Uglies and Peeps were named Best Books for Young Adults by the American Library Association in 2006. Read his exclusive Amazon guest review of The Forest of Hands and Teeth:
Teenagers love a good apocalypse. Who doesn't? All those annoying rules suspended. Society's pretenses made irrelevant. Malls to be looted. School out forever.
But in The Forest and Hands and Teeth, Carrie Ryan's marvelous debut novel, the post-apocalypse is defined more by constraints than freedoms. The book begins seven generations after the Return, an undead plague that has ended civilization as we know it. Of course, a zombie outbreak usually means shotguns and mall looting--the very essence of freedom. But more than a century on from the Return, the malls have already been looted, and shotguns are a distant memory. The novel's heroine, Mary, lives in a village surrounded by one last vestige of industrial technology: a chain-link fence, beyond which is a vast forest full of shambling, eternally ravenous undead--the forest of hands and teeth. No villager ever goes outside this fence, unless they want to die. (And given this bleak scenario, some do.)
Mary's world is bounded not only by the fence but by the archaic traditions of her people, which are enforced by a religious order called the Sisterhood. Marriages, childbirth, death, every stage of life must be controlled to sustain the village's precarious existence. Even the houses are circumscribed--literally--with passages of scripture carved into every entrance to remind the inhabitants of the rules that sustain human life amid the horrors of the forest.
After so long an isolation, the village is beginning to forget. Some doubt that there really was a time before the Return, with giant cities and wondrous technologies. Others believe that nothing at all exists beyond the forest of hands and teeth. And nobody but Mary and her slightly mad mother believes in something called "the ocean," a huge and unbounded space beyond the reach of the undead.
Mary is the sort of teenager who dreams of bigger things. Not just the ocean, but epic romance and adventure beyond the fence, maybe even other villages somewhere out there, safe behind their own fences. She believes that answers can be found to questions like, What made the Return happen? And what was it like before?
Escaping the confines of home for the greater world is, of course, one of the great themes of teen literature. But few heroes in any genre have faced an obstacle as daunting as the forest of hands and teeth. Though Ryan's writing is as lyrical as her title, this novel is driven by the same grim relentlessness that animates any good zombie film. Elegant prose and undead hordes combine to create a story where high drama feels completely unforced, where tension is constant, and where an image as simple as the open sea is achingly romantic.
Zombies have been metaphors for many things: consumerism, contagion in an overpopulated world, the inevitability of death. But here they resonate with a particularly teenage realization about the world--that social limits and backward traditions are numberless and unstoppable, no matter how shambling they may seem at first.
And yet we must try to escape them anyway, lest we wither inside the fence.--Scott WesterfeldAmazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Carrie Ryan We had the opportunity to chat with Carrie Ryan over e-mail about her first novel, The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Here’s what Carrie had to say about George Romero, the growing popularity of young adult fiction, and how she's preparing for the zombie apocalypse.
Amazon.com: You have said you began your writing career intending to write “chick lit.” How, then, did you come to write The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which, on first glance, is a far cry from that genre?
Carrie Ryan: In college many of the short stories I wrote were fairly dark but I’d always heard the advice that you should write what you read and at the time I loved to read romantic comedies and chick lit. So when I decided to attempt a novel, that’s what I tried to write even though it didn’t fit my natural tone. In fact, when I first tried to write a romantic comedy I had to constantly pull myself away from writing dark (and the reason I never tried to sell that book is because too many characters die which wasn’t very comedic!). Even the young adult chick lit I was working on tended to be dark--the main character interned at a coroners office and was surrounded by death.
So writing The Forest of Hands and Teeth was more of me embracing my true voice. I think I’d been scared to just indulge in it before, afraid that there wouldn’t be a market for it (and in fact, even when I was writing The Forest of Hands and Teeth I was convinced it wasn’t saleable). As soon as I jotted down the first line I decided to write it the way I wanted--to experiment and push the bounds and not worry about the market or what other people would think. This was the story I realized I had to tell when my fiancé suggested, “write what you love.”
Amazon.com: Your book has drawn inevitable comparison to the archetypal zombie flick, Night of the Living Dead. How does Mary’s world differ from the world George Romero created more than 40 years ago? Are the movies what first got you hooked on zombies?
Ryan: George Romero has really sparked a lot of imaginations and while any book or movie with zombies inevitably owes a massive debt to Romero's world, I tend not to think of The Forest of Hands and Teeth as a "zombie book," but rather a book that happens to have zombies in it. The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which takes place generations after the apocalypse, is really about a girl struggling with growing up, desire, and a controlling society set against the backdrop of a world with zombies (called “Unconsecrated”) constantly pushing against the fences. The characters have already come to terms with the Return (the zombie apocalypse) and know nothing else: this is their world and they've accepted it.
Romero's movies, on the other hand, deal more directly with the zombies--the plot arc of Night of the Living Dead is having to reckon with and defend against a zombie apocalypse as it occurs. In Romero's world the characters are still trying to fight against the zombies, still trying to reclaim the world of "before." In my book, the "before" time is lost, beyond memory, and the Unconsecrated are not so much the focal point as a part of the setting.
I do think watching the remake of Dawn of the Dead sparked my interest in zombies and led to my watching other zombie movies, including Romero's. One of the things I love the best about his movies, and something that inspired me, is that while they may appear to be simply zombie flicks on the surface, they're actually a commentary on society and are often a reflection of societal fears.
Like many other authors and directors, I wanted to use zombies as a mirror for the characters in my book. In the end, though, what influenced me most was the idea of a girl growing up trapped in a village that has forgotten everything and her hope that there could be something more beyond the menace in the Forest surrounding them, and that's what The Forest of Hands and Teeth is really about.
Amazon.com: Many young adult books with post-apocalyptic settings have been gaining a wide adult fan base--Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games and Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It are a couple of examples. Why do you think these books are attracting a wider audience?
Ryan: It’s been really exciting to see so many young adult books find such popularity with adult readers and I’ve loved re-introducing both my mom and sister to the young adult section. In the past I think readers have “graduated” to adult books and there’s been this feeling that young adult books are “just for teens” and are therefore somehow lighter and less substantive. While there have always been phenomenal young adult books published every year, it’s really felt like there’s been a renaissance recently: more books that are pushing the boundaries in every way.
Not only are a lot of sophisticated young adult books being published, but they’re accessible to everyone--most adults can remember those years of their life and tap into those emotions and feelings. But even more, so many of these books also tap into adult emotions and feelings: how to survive, figuring out what matters in life, struggling with changing relationships. These books make us question our decisions and ourselves and, especially in the current atmosphere of apprehension in the world, people are looking inward to what really matters to them.
Ultimately, I like to think that the bottom line is there are just really really great books in the young adult section and that great books will find a wide audience, no matter where they’re placed.
Amazon.com: In The Forest of Hands and Teeth, no one seems to know how the Unconsecrated (the zombies that live outside the village gates) first came into existence. What do you suspect would trigger the zombie apocalypse?
Ryan: This is actually one of my favorite parts of any zombie book or movie: seeing how the apocalypse is triggered. There are so many different ways it can happen (and has happened)! Aliens, séances, military and medical experiments gone wrong, parasites, environmental mishaps. You name it, it’s caused the zombie apocalypse (I’m still waiting for a movie with chocolate overindulgence as the trigger!)
But I actually made a conscious decision to leave the cause of the Return a mystery in The Forest of Hands and Teeth. One reason is that I wanted to show how knowledge and history could erode so drastically over time. The characters in my book have been so isolated and controlled that they think the ocean is a myth; they have no conception of the world before the Return.
Ultimately, I recognized that the cause of the Return doesn’t matter to the characters or the story. There are so many books and movies that focus on why and how such an apocalypse occurs but my book takes place so long after the event that it’s meaningless. I really wanted to draw that distinction between my world and other zombie worlds: that it doesn’t matter how or why or what triggered the zombie apocalypse, just that it happened and that’s the world they live in now.
Amazon.com: So, how are you preparing for the zombie apocalypse?
Ryan: We’re not at all prepared! It’s funny, shortly after seeing my first zombie movie I dreamt there was a zombie apocalypse and how I would handle it if stuck in the apartment I was living in at the time. Even after waking up I kept trying to figure out how I would survive (how to defend myself, get water, find help, etc.). I’ve since thought through similar issues with every place we’ve lived sort of as a fun thought experiment and I’ve come to the conclusion that we were much safer when we lived in a top floor apartment than our one-story house with too many windows!
To prepare, I just continue to read books, watch movies and am currently trying to train my puppy to be a zombie-sniffing dog.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From School Library Journal
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
More About the Author
Born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina, Carrie is a graduate of Williams College and Duke University School of Law. A former litigator, she now writes full time. She lives with her writer/lawyer husband, two fat cats and one large rescue mutt in Charlotte, North Carolina. They are not at all prepared for the zombie apocalypse. You can find her online at www.carrieryan.com or @CarrieRyan.
Top Customer Reviews
I may be the only female on the planet who has not bought into the latest book to take Amazon and Barnes by storm. You know the series I'm talking about... Dark covers, a dark and brooding beautiful guy with fangs and the muy bella girl he loves and can't live without. It just isn't my swoony cup of tea, much to the chagrin of many of my friends and probably every woman I see step on the subway with hardcover in hand. I have received much flak, grief and guff for my opinions but have recently stepped back into the good graces of a few with Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth .
Meet Mary, a heroine who is as firmly planted in her reality as she is in her dreams. She longs to escape the confines of her village, one that for as long as she remembers has been fenced in, cut off from the rest of the world...if there still is one. On the other side lies the Forest of Hands and Teeth and the Unconsecrated, a zombie-like people who are as undead as vampires but who somehow haunted me more with their hollowed-out faces and continuous crashing against the fences looking for prey. Despite Mary's obligations to her family, her people and her own survival she longs for something bigger. She knows she must marry to keep the bloodlines going but she dreams of escaping to the beach, a faraway entity she has only heard of in her mother's stories. Think The Village meets The Handmaid's Tale with just a smidge of Twilight (the undead factor) and you get a sense of this book.
Unlike, Stephenie Meyer's klutzy faux heroine (no hate mail please), I found Mary to be a well-developed, great "teenage" character dealing with the adult in a very young adult mindframe.Read more ›
About a third of the way into the book, it became clear that the protagonist's detached, flat tone was probably not a stylistic choice, but rather a lack of character development. The book is very plot/event driven, and doesn't have any real characters. I found it hard to believe that the protagonist had two men in love with her; she didn't seem real, or to have any particularly redeeming qualities.
In fact, my biggest problem with the book was the protagonist's philosophies. She's determined to reach the ocean, even at the cost of her own life -- certainly at the cost of the lives of many of her loved ones. She continually ponders if she's "selfish," and other characters call her selfish as well. But she always decides that she can't give up her "dream." She's convinced there is other life beyond the zombie-infested forest, and she's determined to find it, even if it means sacrificing her family and other loved ones.
This book tries hard to set up the classic dichotomy of choice vs. unquestioned belief, and fails. There is nothing profound about this book. The protagonist even waffles about the man she claims to be utterly in love with -- they go from the "honeymoon stage" to feeling trapped and bored in no time at all.
The plot's also not the greatest either. How's this for a plot hole: The mysterious Sisterhood that controls the village insists that the village is the only one left in the entire world -- there is nobody living in or beyond the Forest except for the zombies.Read more ›
Let me explain more thoroughly. This is a very well written book that is very intense. It has a huge amount of suffering and you feel for all the characters. But there is a lot of grisly stuff that occurs in it that at the end I was repulsed. Plus the end of the novel is not easily wrapped up. If you are a reader who reads books that at the end the mystery is solved or in a romance where the characters who deserve happiness have a happy ending this book will NOT give you the ending you would like. I like reading books for the fantasy aspect, to escape but I kinda like a pat ending. If you are more adventurous, like edgy novels where things are left hanging a bit or horror movies where most of the cast is killed in inventive ways then this book will keep you spell-bound and thrill you!
Mary lives in a society where water is sacred and the religious beliefs are very strict. Their village is said to be the only one with humans left. Outside of their village there are zombie like creatures that hunt the remaining humans and there is fear and paranoia everywhere. But Mary goes against the grain and believes the stories her mother passed down. That there is another place filled with water and free from these 'zombies.' Mary is obsessed with this belief. While I admired her spirit I was frustrated that she could not seem to be happy in the book, ever. She convinces her friends and the 2 men who are interested in her to accompany them. Along the way people die and it is gruesome. The ending is realistic and brutal.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I could not put this book down. It is so much more than just a zombie story. It's about faith and dreams. About love, family and friendship but most of all, it's about survival. Read morePublished 20 days ago by lieu2010
A lovely page turner by a fabulous author. This book was recommended to me by my wife. I picked it up with curiosity, and was immediately pulled into the intriguing story. Read morePublished 1 month ago by J. Steven Butler
Underdeveloped plot, characters, and a story that matches almost every zombie movie ever made. Not to mention an eye rolling love triangle. This could have been so much better.Published 1 month ago by Amanda Z
I have read this book twice now and I love it so much. It's beautifully written and keeps you wanting more the whole time. It's a tragic love story but not at the same time. Read morePublished 1 month ago by KeiraS
The forest of hands and teeth is a good book overall. I read it for my 10th grade English class. I don't believe in a perfect book (though some have been close) while this one... Read morePublished 2 months ago by ben
I really did not enjoy anything about this book! I found myself more concerned with the dog's survival than any of the characters. I didn't find the storyline original. Read morePublished 2 months ago by manduhpaigereads
This is a great book. I have never read a zombie book before. I was quite surprised. This book has so much going for it and was written very well. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Austinisrad
What I liked best about this story is though there is a love square, the protagonist, Mary, doesn't choice either suitor. She chooses her own path. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Lazy Book Lovers
I didn't really enjoy this book very much. A large majority of the book was very predictable, though there were a few unexpected twists. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Taevyn Bitner