I’m all about exploring the creative depths of imaginations. I get that you gotta bring something new and fresh when you try and tackle old genres and motifs. I get this. I do not get this book.
My reading of this book came about as a two part assault. First, I was followed by the book’s author via twitter. She seemed decent enough and advertised she had a love of zombies also, so I followed her back. Secondly the nerd porn site, Goodreads, suggested, based on my preferences, that I might enjoy this novel. So I bit.
Before I get into this too deeply, let me first say that this review will have spoilers, because I need you to fully understand my outrage. Also I feel like I need to make my position a little clear. This book falls firmly into the young adult fiction category. A genre, I’m not too super jazzed on. The latter Harry Potter’s fall into this category somehow which is why I’m conflicted. And I loathe with a passion romance novels, which unfortunately a lot of YA fiction tends to bend heavily towards that end instead of embracing their other sub genres like: mystery, fantasy, horror, etc.
For starters, can we briefly judge a book by its cover? A novel named “The Forest of Hands and Teeth,” maybe a picture of some hands and/or teeth would be a step in the right direction. The above image is from the US hardback edition, but I assure you the paperback edition is no better, and there is the atrocity of whatever edition this is. Can we say Twilight? The title of the book is so blatant that perhaps, no, you don’t need an image to reflect the ominous nature of the world you’re about to slip into for a few hours…..but maybe a sad girl staring blankly into nothing isn’t the way to go either.
Moving on to the novel itself. Our protagonist is Mary, a young girl in her teens (duh), that lives in a village completely enclosed by fences. The society she lives in is a theocracy run by the Sisterhood and protected by an order of Guardians. Somehow Ryan has combined a matriarchal society that favors male succession and privilege….
Men in this village have the option of claiming a woman for marriage or choosing never to be married and live out the rest of there days as they see fit. The women have the option of marrying or joining the sisterhood. There is the rarely taken option for her family to keep her for a year in the hopes that she be claimed in the following year, but she is probably not likely to succeed on that measure as there are few males available within the same age category.
The zombies in this novel are called the Unconsecrated. A term that I initially found to be refreshing. It played in nicely with the religious theme and wasn’t an obvious nor an overly used term. My enamor with it quickly dissolved. It is the ONLY word used to describe them and they are mentioned A LOT. The sound of the unconsecrated, the sight of the unconsecrated, the smell of the unconsecrated, the menace of the unconsecrated, unconsecrated, unconsecrated, unconsecrated, unconsecrated. You’re probably sick of reading it already and that was one paragraph. This bulky term never gets a neat abbreviation like, I don’t know, ‘UCS’ or ‘uncon’, or anything else of convenience that would alleviate the cumbersome reading of this word in its multitudinous usage.
So the story goes on, of course where there is a locus of power, like the sisterhood, there is always going to be that Big Brother/Luthor Corp./Enron, nexus of evil and secrets; and the sisterhood does not disappoint. Using their first real opportunity to make a good impression, they take the, now orphaned and abandoned by her brother Mary, to a secret passage that runs under the village that leads to a secret spot that opens up in the middle of the forest of hands and teeth, completely encircled by a fence, with a solitary door that can be opened with a pull of a lever to let all of the unconsecrated into this finite space and allow them to tear Mary apart. And with that action this entity reveals to Mary its sinister nature and begins a potentially intriguing arc that goes absolutely no where.
So of course we have this M. Night Shymalan village that has told all of its citizens that they are the last bastion of human civilization left in the world, which obviously means we’re going to get a visitor from the outside world. And we DO (surprise!), and then she dies and becomes a super zombie. Need me to clarify that? No, I won’t because it wasn’t clarified to me.
….Okay fine. I’ll do my best, but no promises.
So the village has a few access points that lead into fenced paths that disappear through the forest, one night a stranger appears at one of these gates and is taken into the church where the sisterhood keeps her locked away in secret. Mary discovers this stranger, finds out her name, and then the next time she sees her she is a super zombie who can run really fast…
Okay see, I told you.
This phenomenon is further explained in the next book (Oh yeah, it’s a series baby. Believe it.) Of which I have read the first two chapters and then just gave up and deleted from kindle, laptop, and life.
PERIMETER BREACH! Everyone but the core set of protagonists dies. And guess where they have to go? Oh yeah, down the paths to “nowhere.” The story somehow gets markedly more uninteresting from there. They’re hungry, wandering, had to kill one of there own because she was bitten during the breach(extra spoiler: it was Mary’s brother’s pregnant wife, can we say emotional wrenching in a bottle?).
What do you know they find Danielle’s(super zombie girl) village. Surprise it is overrun. Because, a perfectly healthy thriving village would make any young girl wander through unknown paths in a forest of zombies alone. In the winter. At night.
The least interesting portion of the whole novel is the quasi love triangle between Mary and her two suitors whose names I can’t think of right now. Let’s call them Frick and Frack. They are brothers. Frick wants to claim Mary, but Mary prefers Frack. Frick no longer claims Mary after her mother dies from a zombie bite. Why? Who the fuck knows! He doesn’t explain it and never really apologizes for abandoning her. Frack gets hurt and goes to recover at the church where Mary lives. Mary falls in love with Frack.
No, that is literally how it happens, there is no demonstration no progression just he’s there, she goes to see him and boom she loves him. Stop looking for exposition people cause you’re not going to get it.
Frack loves Mary too, but claimed Mary’s bestie, who ends up falling for Frick, but because she’s very devout doesn’t even want to discuss switching. Frick comes back to claim Mary. Mary acquiesces cause otherwise it’s the sisterhood.
Frick is also in love with bestie, let’s call her Alice. Why doesn’t everyone just sit down discuss this and switch off? Hell if I know.
Breach, everyone is together. Wander. Friction. Resolution. More Friction. Everyone ends up separated and trapped with the person they love. Or do they? In my honest opinion. Mary truly loves only one person. The ocean. The ocean is a huge symbol in this story and Mary’s pursuit of it generally makes her a little unhappy even in moments with the one she supposedly loves the most.
I have a favorite part.
That isn’t sarcasm it is the truth. It’s the ending.
The ending is so great. It is anti-YA and so fully apocalyptic that a part of me doesn’t want to spoil it…..But I will. Trying to escape the UCS, Frack gets bitten then sacrifices himself to save the others. Mary has to put him down when he turns. They have to run because not only are the UCS behind them, but fire is burning towards them slowly everyday for a while until it rains. Mary to fulfill her own deepest desire, and to honor a promise she made to Frack, decides to leave the safety of the fences and find the ocean. Frick and her brother are firmly against this. She does it anyway. Her brother, who had blamed Mary for what happened to their mother, and with whom she had never fully reconciled with following those incidents, goes after her. They fight through the forest and end up perched on a ledge as UCS rain down around them. They make-up. It’s sweet and actually well written, and then a large zombie bumps her brother off the ledge into the rapids below.
She makes it to the ocean, alone. The End.
The book has a certain entertainment quality. If I had to equate it to something it would be like a B movie horror. You expect a fair amount of ridiculousness with those one or two moments of sheer genius. The pseudo love story and the entire narrative being written in present tense to create false urgency really turned me off. If you’re anything like me, and want to read this for yourself, I’d suggest using the lending feature on Amazon prime, or locating it from your local library. You’ll kick yourself for buying it, I guarantee.
Little Fun Fact, after the conclusion of my reading, I thought up the best possible compliment I could conjure and tweeted the author. She said thanks and then stopped following me. Haha. She must have sensed my deeper meaning. Oh, well.