on March 29, 2009
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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. The plot itself is fantasy pure and simple (and though young love always seems to be based in the fantasy) the driving emotions behind the story are steeped in the reality of the fantasy world, taking into account complexities, obligation, family and devotion rather than hyperbolic "tunnel-vision" solely for the sake of turning pages. This could just be the next great series and though I am not typically a fantasy reader of much of a Young Adult reader for that matter, I'll happily jump on board that bandwagon.
This book starts out interesting. The world of the book unfolds relatively quickly, pulling the reader along. Once I realized this would be a dystopian novel, I was excited; I love dystopias.
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. People in the village accept this, and to insist that there are other humans living elsewhere is considered utter nonsense. However! When the girl in the bright red vest arrives seemingly unscathed through the Forest, the Sisters keep her a secret from the villagers. They lock her away and only turn her loose when she becomes a zombie. She turns out to be a spectacular zombie, zipping around in the bright red vest with a speed and ferocity that the other zombies don't have. Nobody else has a bright red vest either.
AND YET, once all the villagers see this new zombie, who wears clothing unlike any found in their village and who is CLEARLY not anybody they've ever seen in their village, they don't question the Sisterhood's party line of "we are the only ones left; there is nobody else." That doesn't make any sense!
Also, the protagonist finds a book that says the Sisterhood _made_ the red vest girl zombie super-strong and super-ferocious by isolating her for a while. This is never explored. I wish it had been; it would have been a lot more interesting than listening to the harebrained protagonist go on about how she should have a choice in how to live her life. How much choice can there be when you're constantly on alert for zombie attacks?
In fact, the protagonist is kind of a dope. An irredeemable dope. Most of the people in her village are just happy to live another day without being devoured by zombies, but this nitwit is so sure there's something more to life. She drags her friends and what's left of her family through the Forest, in search of a better life, and, because they're all dopes too, they risk their lives to follow her.
She does attain her "dream" at the end, of seeing the ocean, but how valuable can that be? She's still stuck on a zombie-infested planet, except now she has a waterfront view.
This book carries overtones of Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend," Lois Lowry's "The Giver," and even a tiny hint of Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" -- all books that are infinitely better than this one. Read those and give this one a miss.
Okay, I am probably going to get in trouble for this, but I could not enjoy this book. I know a lot of people enjoyed this book. But for me it was sort of like a traffic accident, you can't help but watch it but the horror of it is overwhelming.
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. There is good and bad but I was just so shocked and actually repulsed after reading it that I didn't feel satisfied. It was creepy.
But this book makes you think. It is not the typical easy read. So beware!
on July 1, 2010
I'm just gonna cut to the chase here: I was pretty disappointed by this book. Basically the only thing it had going for it was the action. It was definitely a very suspenseful read. But was it original? No. Was it well written? No. Were the characters well developed? No. Were they at least likable? Not really.
The zombie idea, like the vampire one, has been done a zillion times before. That's not to say there's no room for further creativity and originality in the genre (obviously, or people wouldn't be devouring so many of these books!)...but Carrie Ryan doesn't manage that here. This whole concept of a futuristic world where humans are on the verge of extinction, and society is run by a small, mysterious group of religious or political extremists who keep hidden from everyone the true history of How Things Got to Be So Effed Up, has been done a hundred times before, and much more skillfully, too (see Brave New World, The Handmaiden's Tale, Fahrenheit 451, The Giver, or The Hunger Games, to name a few). If you're going to succeed in this overpopulated genre, something needs to stand out; there need to be some redeeming qualities.
For example, you could have a really strong, vivid protagonist, someone who has flaws, but struggles convincingly to overcome them, to do the right thing...someone who is both complex and likable (i.e. Katniss). Mary, heroine of The Forest of Hands and Teeth, is neither complex nor likable, although she is definitely flawed. For one thing, she's extremely selfish. From the first page to the last, she consistently puts her own desires and whims before everything else, even when it leads to the heartbreak, death, and zombie-hood of her closest friends and family. Also, she's a total flake. The only thing constant about her is her selfishness. Throughout the book, she keeps changing her mind on these life-altering issues: "I'm going to marry Harry and live comfortably. Actually, I'm joining the sisterhood. No, I can't, I love Travis! Wait, Travis is engaged to my best friend, I can't do this! Yes, I can, I have to! Slash...I kind of miss Harry! Wait, there has to be more to life than romance, I want to see the ocean!" There's really no apparent reason why she keeps changing her mind...these fluctuations are not grounded in anything; they show no evolution of character. They are basically just whims...something to keep us turning the pages, I guess.
The secondary characters were also pretty flat. The love triangle between Mary, Harry (her betrothed), and Travis (Harry's brother) left me cold. The brothers do not seem like separate individuals; they have the exact same voice and seem to basically cherish the same things (Mary). As far as I could tell, the only real distinction between the brothers is that Harry apparently has white, fleshy hands, whereas Travis's hands are sexy and calloused. Clearly, then, Travis is the one for her!
As for the writing...the story is told from Mary's perspective in the present tense. I've noticed that first person, present tense POV's often come off as a little pretentious if the author isn't careful...the writing has a tendency to take itself too seriously. I guess the idea is that if one writes in the present tense, the urgency of it all--the mystique!--will persuade the reader that what's being said is really, vitally important, even if there's actually nothing there. Ryan writes in short, choppy, angst-ridden, annoyingly redundant prose that is littered with fragments. Here's an exaggerated example (of my own rendering, *not* by Carrie Ryan) of a typical inner monologue by Mary:
"Sitting there beside Travis, I feel frightened. Scared. Scared for Travis. Scared for me. Scared that I'll never touch his calloused, manly hands again. Scared of the passion building up within me. The fire of it. The burning. Then, suddenly, an image of Harry pops into my mind. Harry, laughing, like when we were kids. Harry holding my hand. Harry holding my hand tightly. Leading me through the fields. I feel a warm comfort. A feeling of safety. Of security. Maybe Harry is the one for me? But then, I remember my mother, and the stories of the ocean. The ocean! How it was so endless. How it didn't end. So vast. So big and full of water! Travis is bleeding to death on the bed beside me. Blood running everywhere. Real bloody. But I know what I have to do. The journey I have to take. Goodbye Travis. Goodbye Harry. HELLO, OCEAN!"
Ok, I realize this has been a pretty scathing review so far, perhaps more so than I originally intended when I began. So I will briefly talk about some of the things I liked. Despite my irritation with the unoriginality, the flat characters, and the pretentious writing style, the book really was extremely suspenseful, even scary at times (as zombie novels tend to be). I read most of it in one sitting because I had to find out what happened. One other positive feature was the darkness of it. The mood throughout was extremely grim, and that does take some skill.
on November 11, 2009
I really liked this book for the first few chapters. In fact I was so excited about it that I nearly finished the book in one day. However, the more I read past the half-way-point, the more disappointed I got. This book had everything going for it until the main character suddenly became so selfish and callous that I felt she had as much humanity in her as the zombies who chased her. Every time she got something she had previously been desperate to get, she suddenly decided she really did not want that anymore and just threw it away like a piece of trash. She left a wake of desperation and suffering behind her that rivaled anything a zombie could produce. Basically, the main character totally fell apart and became a vapid idiot that would throw her own grandma in front of a bus without a second thought. Seriously disappointed.
Very rarely is there a novel that gets under your skin and is so permeated with atmosphere you feel as if you can hear the nails scratching on wood and smell the fetid breath of death right behind you.
"The Forest of Hands and Teeth" is such a novel that pulls it off with amazing effect and aplomb.
The setting of this novel is a secluded village surrounded by the forest and the Unconsecrated who seek to infect and destroy the living above all else. Ravenously hungry, unrelentingly persistent, they are a constant threat. Is there anything outside the village? Do others exist? Is this last scraggly band of survivors all that is left of humanity? What is the Sisterhood hiding?
These questions are probed by Mary, a young woman at the heart of this story. Her quest to find answers brings pain, loss, longing, and unltimately redemption. Struggling to find her truth and her own path she must confront the Unconsecrated hordes, navigate the Forest of Hands and Teeth, and defy the Sisterhood.
Written in a stark and graphic style, this novel pulls you in from the first page and has you thinking it over long after the last. With a creepy factor that sinks in and wont let go- this novel is a breakneck race to freedom and a white-knuckled ride through the forest, dark and foreboding- instersped with flashes of light and brilliance.
At its core, this novel is one about love. The love of family, of home, and dreams. It is about stark realities and how we bring survival into the same circle as hope and faith. This book (to me at least) seemed to be the perfect blending of the film "The Village" and the creepy atmospheric "Resident Evil 4" video game(s). While the pairing might seem odd at first, if you have seen or played either you will get the connection very quickly.
This book is an excellent read and a wonderful first for the author. I assure you- this book is great! Pick it up, soak in its chilly and musty atmosphere, hear the crunch of leaves and the shuffling steps of the Unconsecrated. Be brave. Venture into "The Forest of Hands and Teeth."
on January 8, 2011
As other reviewers have noted, "The Forest of Hands and Teeth" is about Mary, a young woman who lives in an isolated village protected on all sides by fencing, designed to keep the Unconsecrated (zombies) out. The village is run by the mysterious Sisterhood; the novel starts off when Mary's mother is infected and Mary must join the Sisterhood. At the same time, she finds herself involved in a love triangle, complicated when zombie overrun the fortified village and she is forced to flee.
I really wanted to like this book: the idea sounds interesting and engaging. Zombies and romance? I'm sold. But the idea didn't really work. I guess you could say that it had great potential but really fell apart with the author's execution. The writing and editing were weak, the characters undeveloped and the story poorly paced.
First of all, my biggest problem with the story reminded by of my 10th grade journalism teacher's words: "Show it, don't say it." In essence, describe the action, the village, the setting and the characters. Don't just say that the village exists, describe what it looks it, how large it is, what it is made of. Without these descriptions, the book lacks grounding. The audience is told that Mary is our heroine, but we know little about her. Her age, appearance and personality are - for the most part - unexplored.
Secondly (and similarly), the author includes no descriptions of what life was like before her mother died - Mary spends much of the first half of the book longing for when her mother was alive - but the reader never fully engages in this. We don't know what it was like then, we just have to believe Mary when she says that it was better. The author lacks descriptions of the village too. What is its population? How large it is physically? How does it sustain itself? Is there a political system, an education system?
Finally, and really most notably, the novel lacks character development. The three main characters - Mary, Travis and Harry - were all flat and uninteresting. Halfway through the book I asked myself if I could list three adjectives for each of the characters involved in the underdeveloped love triangle. Mary is self-centered and Harry is a little obtuse. But that's really all. All three characters are flat, lacking development - it's very hard to engage with the characters when there is so little there to engage with. Clearly, the author wants the readers to see Mary as a strong, independent young woman with agency. But there is nothing in the text to support this. Mary's actions are dictated by her brother, the Sisterhood and her own misguided desire to see the ocean.
Even though an incredible amount of the book is spent in descriptions - really, there's almost no dialogue - the reader doesn't really get a sense for what life is like in the village, or even what life is like outside of the village when Mary and her friends/family run. Clearly, it's a forest. But what kind of trees are? How thick is foliage? Are there animals? Of course, this doesn't really matter. But as the forest clearly is supposed to almost be a character in the novel, this lack of descriptive development is representative of the book's main flaws.
One interesting aspect of the book which lent it some good qualities was the exploration of religion and god. Early on, Mary declares herself to no longer believe in god. Personally, I love when young adult books address atheism and agnosticism, so I at least was slightly engaged when the author addressed Mary's religious beliefs.
In conclusion, a cool - although not original - concept in theory, that utterly fails in execution. I wanted to like Mary, but found it impossible to without knowing anything about her and her life.
on October 18, 2011
This book was very confusing to me and there were times when I actually wondered if Mary was insane. Then I thought, no, she is just an incredibly selfish and self centered teenage girl. I kept going back between those two through out the whole book. I just have a very hard time reading books (and watching movies/tv) where all the secondary characters choose to follow an undeserving person without question. There was almost no redeeming qualities about Mary whatsoever. I'm going to talk about parts of the story so there might be spoilers for those who havent read the book, just a warning. There are two brothers who are both completely in love with Mary and Mary's best friend Cass. In my opinion Cass and one of the brothers, Travis, were the only smart and selfless people in the whole book. Cass, because even though she became an bitter and angry person, she saw someone who needed her and pledged her life to taking care of him. A little orphaned 6 year old named Jacob. Travis was so in love with Mary that he gave his life for her to acheive her dream of seeing the ocean. He also loved his brother enough to let him marry Mary because he was also in love with her. Harry knew that Travis was in love with Mary but refused to give her up to him even though he knew Mary was in love with Travis. But it wasnt until Travis was dead that Mary realized that he was enough and that she didnt need to see the ocean and its all just a big convoluted mess. The only good things about Mary where that she kept forgiving her jerk brother and agreeing with Cass when Cass told her that she would always choose Jacob instead of Mary. I almost cheered when I read that.
Aside from the ridcules characters, the setting was also very confusing. The author didnt describe it very well at all. Apparently there are all sorts of connecting, fenced in paths that run throughout the forest and connect villiges yet nobody knows about them. I like to be able to picture the characters in their setting, like a picture in my mind yet I couldnt do that because the author didnt even take the time to explain it. Not even the basics of how big Mary's village was or what shape it was or even that there were fenced in paths leading away until almost halfway through the book. Nothing was described very well.
The only interesting thing in the book were the Sisters and their secrets. We never really learn what those secrets are or why they did the things that they did. Especially what they did to Gabrielle to make her into the Fast One and why. I really wanted to know that! But nope, we dont find out.
If you do decide to read this book atleast it wont take very long. It was an easy read. I finished it in a day.
on October 16, 2009
I gave this book 2 stars because the premise was original and the prose was lovely. Having said that I came away from this book completely dissatisfied. So many questions were simply left unanswered. So many plot lines left hanging. For example, (spoiler alert)
-why did her father leave the village?
-why does her mother expect him to come back?
-how can her brother be so dismissive and cruel to her?
-what secrets the sisters are keeping?
-how did the villagers gather livestock and expand the fence?
-who was Gabrielle and why did the sister's keep her a secret?
-why was Gabrielle extra fast?
-how was the fence in Mary's village breached?
-what's up with Travis and why if he loved Mary all along did he propose to Cass?
-why was communication cut off between the villages?
-how was Gabrielle's village breached?
-why if the zombies hunger for human flesh do they simply bite and move on, with out devouring their prey?
-why don't all the zombies eventually run out of steam like Gabrielle. Are they being replenished in some way?
I kept turning pages hoping for answers only to be confronted with another zombie attack. It wasn't creepy, it was just boring. And the romance. Yuck. Nothing real there, just lust and when that burns out Mary loses interest. I really wanted to like this book but there was no payoff in the end.
I love zombies, so I was interested in this book despite having been told it wasn't good. The zombies thing might be what's saving this from being a 1 star, I'm not sure.
All the characters were boring, I didn't care for a single one of them. (No, I take that back, I cared for the dog, Argos. What? I'm a dog lover.) They didn't even make me angry at any point in time, they irked me at best. I've read other books where the characters at least make me angry enough to care. This book just made me entirely indifferent towards them. Mary brings up small bits of their personalities that used to be, like "I remember when Cass was all smiles and sunshine" or something, but we come into the story when Cass (her best friend) isn't like this, when we meet her she's just as bland as the others. So why should I care about how she used to be? I also don't understand why Mary fell in love with Travis. In fact, I didn't even get that she had fallen in love with him when he was ill, I thought she was telling me she had been in love with him for a while. That wasn't the case though, because at some point she clarifies that she had a *crush* on him before, and is *in love* with him now. Regardless of when it happened, there is no chemistry between them, and Mary could hardly ever make up her mind about how she felt about him. She cared, she didn't care, she just wants someone to marry her, no she wants *him* to marry her, she was in love with him and wanted only him, but he's not enough for her, but he totally is enough for her! And so on.
Mary also mentions how she remembers when she and Cass were once the closest of friends, or when she and Jed were once very close siblings, but we never see any of this we just see her lamenting the loss of a relationship with them that seems to have existed way before the events of this book. How am I supposed to care when she mourns a relationship I've never seen? This is why I didn't even care when her mother died, and all I ever know is that at some point her father died, otherwise we don't hear about him except when speaking of her mother's love for her father. If I don't get the full impact of what she lost, then I don't care that she lost them. Would it really have killed Ryan to have fleshed out some of the relationships a bit?
The "revelations" in this book are so badly written that I feel no impact, no excitement or sadness or anything that the author probably intended for me to feel. They had so little impact that it would take me a few more sentences to realize that Ryan meant for me to react to the event. The Sisterhood is keeping secrets you say? Well, okay then... Oh noes, Gabrielle's been turned into one of the Unconsecrated? Well I- wait, why are you now focusing on Travis and the fact that he's kissing you? Oh I see, it's the greatly desired *first kiss*, although I- Oh back to Gabrielle? Okay, yeah, that sucks immensely that she was- oh, back to Travis then and the fact that he kissed you. Cool, I guess.
And that's another thing, *how* is it that this girl still manages to be able to focus on things that relate to Travis, things like jealousy when her entire village is being eaten by zombies. They're right at the beginning of the path where they escaped the breach, she hears Travis call Cass "darling" or something, and she has the time to be jealous over it. Your village is *dying*, Mary, this is *so* not the time for this. She does this several times throughout the book in moments where a normal person would be thinking, "OH MY GOD WE'RE ALL DOOMED" yet she manages to focus on, "Woooee my true love likes my bff, woeeee".
Also the ending was pretty silly too: So she steps into the forest, gets attacked by zombies and her brother then runs after her. She reaches the ocean, we assume her brother died somewhere in the struggle, and Cass, Jacob, Harry and the dog (omg Argos!) are left to starve to death back where the fences were. That's if the fences even hold long enough for them to die of starvation instead of being eaten alive once the Unconsecrated get through. So congratulations, Mary! You got to the ocean, and everyone's dead! Wooo!
The world, at least, was interesting enough for me to want to see more of that. I just like zombies *that much*. I just never want to see Mary again (I want to see Argos though) and I'll be hoping that Ryan will be better at making me care about her characters. I know there's a sequel, so I may read it. Eventually.