In the Forest of Hands and Teeth, you never stray too near the fence.
Mary cannot remember a time she did not live with the presence of the Unconsecrated: dead bodies propelled by a savage appetite for human flesh that push against the fence surrounding her village day and night. She learns to tune out the endless moans and cries, and when the darkness comes you pray for a dreamless sleep, because no nightmare compares to what constantly rattles and claws at your all-too vulnerable borders between her village and the forest.Her people live in the shadow of the Cathedral and the Sisterhood, obeying the Sisters who enforce God’s laws and praying that their precious fence holds. Despite the obvious dangers, Mary dreams of the world that must exist outside the Forest of Hands and Teeth, and of the ocean that her mother told her about but that those around her insist is just a myth. But when Mary’s family is destroyed, she must make a choice between the Sisterhood and marriage with a man she does not love. All the while, Mary wants to know what lies beyond the perimeter of her tiny village. Is there an ocean out there? And how can it be reached when the Unconsecrated are a constant and relentless threat in the forest? Even when surrounded by so much death, Mary wants to live. At times the longing in her chest for freedom seems as desperate as the ragged need of the Unconsecrated.
Then a stranger comes to the village, from the fenced-in path that the Sisterhood has forbidden anyone to explore. Her mysterious presence sets in motion a chain of events that catapult Mary far beyond the borders of her tiny village into an uncertain future fraught with fear and death. It is fascinating that this novel deals with zombies and yet that word is never mentioned. The strength of Carrie Ryan’s walking dead debut is the menacing mood it strikes–I could hear those cold, clammy fingers grappling with the fence and the moans of the unconsecrated by novel's end. SHUDDER!!!
I was left with more questions than answers by the time I turned the last page, and frustrated by the clues Mary found of modern life gone wrong and the potential corrupt nature of the Sisterhood that were dropped and not picked up again. Yet, the story is so very engrossing that you get past it. Also Mary’s constant back-and-forth can make things drag a bit: one minute she wants to risk everything to get to the ocean, then she does an about-face and goes into a downward spiral of self-doubt and self-defeat…then she’s back to being all bold and trying to get to the ocean again…then back. Even though this personality flaw of Mary’s gets annoying, I still think it’s a fairly realistic reaction to what is happening around her.
I hope there is a sequel, for I cannot wait to read more about Mary and her world. I normally do not fancy ANYTHING that has zombies in it (ask anyone that knows me), but this story is well done, a page turning powerhouse. If your interested in something with a dark edge that is different than vampires and werewolves then take a lurch on the wild side with Ryan’s disturb-arific zombies as soon as they start staggering into the nearest library or bookstore, which unfortunately will not be until April 2009.
Just to whet your appetite a bit more. Here is a video that was created by Student filmmaker, Jessica Pilkes for IN THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH and she was honored at the teen book video awards for her effort.