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REVIEW: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Dear Ms. Ryan,

038573681901lzzzzzzzWe’ve joked about zombies becoming the new vampire here at Dear Author.   For a while, it seemed like zombies were replacing faeries as the hot paranormal trend.   In fact, I first heard about your debut novel from a publishing deal announcement during one of those waves.   The reason why it stood out in my mind was because of two reasons.   First, I loved the title.   It was so evocative and anyone who’s ever watched a zombie movie can easily extrapolate its origins.   And secondly, your novel was set generations after the zombie apocalypse ruined the world.

Mary lives in a secluded village in the Forest of Hands and Teeth.   It’s a suffocating existence because she’s always dreamed of leaving, walking past the fence that encloses it, and finding the ocean her mother always told her about.   But to leave the village means entering the forest, which is filled with the Unconsecrated — the dead who’ve returned and hunger for human flesh.   Mary knows this better than anyone.   Not too long ago, her father walked into the forest, never to return and her mother’s pined for him ever since.

Because of their isolation and the fact that they may be the last survivors of humanity, the village has a ritualized system of ensuring that the next generation will continue.   It’s a world where commitment and duty are emphasized over love and freedom.   Mary also knows this best of all because while she is in love with Travis, it’s Travis’s brother Harry who wants to marry her.

That all changes when her mother strays too close to the fence and gets bitten by a zombie.   Through a series of misfortunes, Mary finds herself no longer spoken for and turned over into the care of the Sisterhood, a group of women who rule over the village.   What Mary learns and discovers there drives her to make the choice she’s been considering for nearly her entire life: should she stay or should she go?

I love horror movies.   And while I do prefer Asian horror cinema these days, I have a morbid affection for bad, horror B-movies.   Anyone who’s ever watched the SciFi channel on a Saturday will know exactly what kind of horror movies I’m talking about here.   We are talking bad movies.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is not on that level.   It’s not a bad book by any stretch of the imagination.   That said, I think it didn’t live up to its promise.   In some ways, having watched so many zombie movies might have hurt me.   While I didn’t go in expecting this book to be anything like a movie, I probably did have a few subconscious expectations.   Like the fact I expected that Mary would escape the village earlier in the book and have to survive in a zombie-filled forest.

This, of course, wasn’t the case.   Even so, I wouldn’t have minded that if what was presented instead had been explored more in depth.   I would have loved more about the Sisterhood’s conspiracies, for example.   While it’s true that their fanaticism ties into the book’s themes, I still got the impression much of their purported beliefs were self-serving.   After all, they had the most power in the village due to their knowledge and in a world where civilization has all been wiped out, knowledge truly is power.   What were those secrets they kept so closely guarded?   What was the deal with Gabrielle?   I can draw my own conclusions but it’s nothing definitive.   Or I would have loved exploration into the relationship dynamics between Mary, Cass, Travis, and Harry.   Not necessarily even the love triangle (or rectangle, I guess) because having known each other since childhood, their relationships aren’t completely based in the romantic.

But because neither of those threads was dealt with in a manner I found satisfactory, it wasn’t until the last quarter to a third of the book that I became invested.   I thought that part of the book was the most interesting and I think readers who know their zombie movies will find it the most familiar.   Admittedly, there were some details that made me wonder if they’d been inspired by specific movies (like the baby and the Dawn of the Dead remake).   I suppose that’s the disadvantage of having watched so many.

And since I’m a fantasy reader, my next complaint shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me.   I thought the worldbuilding had major inconsistencies.   There’s only so much I’m willing to chalk up to an unreliable narrator and first person narrative filter.   Some things just really did not make sense to me.

For example, the village is surrounded by a fence.   In the novel, we learn it started out small but as the years wore on, the villagers started expanding it.   There a few problems with this.   First, the village’s founders just happened to leave a bunch of wood lying around to expand it to the extent they did?   Second, wood rots.   A wood fence will not last a generation without upkeep and replacement, let alone multiple generations.   Again, this brings us back to the question of where is that wood coming from?   Under normal circumstances, the obvious answer would be the forest but because the forest is filled with ravenous zombies, that answer is no longer so obvious.

And speaking of the founders, they just happened to have chickens and cows when they built the village and fences?   Never mind the fact that they were able to maintain a population to feed them for generations (meaning they had feed, veterinary care, etc), I can’t help but wonder how they even thought of this.   Because when faced with a worldwide crisis of epic proportions, like a zombie plague, I don’t think it’d be inaccurate to say most people wouldn’t plan that far into the future.   They’d be thinking more in the short term.   I know I would.   I’d be more concerned about surviving tomorrow because if I don’t survive tomorrow, how can I help anyone else in the future?

There are other details that bothered me.   People know how to read but don’t know what Roman numerals are?   Photos and newspapers are still perfectly intact generations in the future?   These weren’t artifacts preserved in a museum but items stored in an attic.   What about bugs and beetles?   They love to nibble on old paper.   I know it’s minutiae but it immediately occurred to me when I stumbled across those sections in the text so I like to think it’s not that irrelevant.

Despite my substantial problems with the worldbuilding and pacing, I do think this is an original contribution to the young adult genre.   It’s a more literary take on zombies, which will appeal to readers who shy away from gory zombie movies.   On the other hand, I think the book lacked the focus it needed to emphasize its themes of how fear and self-imposed isolation can cripple your freedom.   And I personally found the final chapter very anti-climatic.   While it does bring some of the irony I’ve come to expect from the horror genre, it did make me question what was the point of it all.   Then again, that might have been the point in and of itself.   C

My regards,

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!


  1. Kat
    Mar 16, 2009 @ 21:10:55

    Funny you mention the Dawn of the Dead remake because according to this guest post at the Whatever, the movie started Carrie Ryan’s fascination with the zombie apocalypse. That guest post made me look up this book, and yes, the title also fascinated me. I’m looking forward to reading this one. Is it a series, do you think, since you mention there were some loose ends that weren’t properly explained?

  2. Maya M.
    Mar 16, 2009 @ 22:04:17

    I loved the cover of this book, with the girl’s hair mimicking the tree branches, and even went to the author’s site to read the excerpt – which impressed me quite a bit. I’m disappointed to read of your dissappointment, but wonder if the novel would fare better in my eyes being almost completely ignorant of zombie fare and relatively new to fantasy.

  3. Jackie Kessler
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 05:36:31

    I have heard marvelous things about this book, and I cannot wait to read it.

  4. Jia
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 07:31:21

    @Kat: I’m not sure. It could become a series since there definitely are some loose ends but it reads perfectly fine as a standalone too.

    @Maya M.: I hope it works better for you! Honestly, much of my dissatisfaction came from the worldbuilding and once something like that starts bothering me, I have a very hard time ignoring it as I keep reading. I doubt most readers (who haven’t seen zombie movies) are as picky so they might not even notice.

  5. JulieLeto
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 08:10:56

    Well, I don’t read fantasy…and when I do, I generally ignore worldbuilding, so that’s not going to be a problem for me at all. And I’ve never seen a zombie movie because I’m too much of a wimp. But I read the excerpt to this book months ago and I’ve already downloaded it to my Kindle. I can’t wait to read it.

  6. Jia
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 08:31:13

    Well, to be fair, the thing about zombie movies is that once you seen one, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Unless there’s something else going on beneath the surface (like how Dawn of the Dead was social commentary about commercialism — get it, mindless zombies at the mall?), it’s one of the more difficult subgenres to innovate. I suppose that could be said for any member of the paranormal bestiary though.

  7. Maili
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 09:31:07

    “Well, to be fair, the thing about zombie movies is that once you seen one, you've pretty much seen them all.”

    I think I disagree with this statement. I wouldn’t compare Day of the Dead with 28 Days Later; or would I try with Shaun of the Dead and The Mutant Chronicles, for instance. :D

    The Forest of Hands and Teeth seems similar to M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village (with a different take, of course). I think I’ll get a copy because it sounds interesting. Speaking of zombies in romance novels, have you read Evelyn Vaughn’s ‘Buried Secrets’?

    (I like Asian horror cinema, too.)

  8. Jia
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 09:54:56

    @Maili: That’s true, but movies like 28 Days Later are few and far between in the huge sea that is zombie cinema. ;)

    Now that you mention it, The Forest of Hands and Teeth does have quiet a bit in common with The Village. A friend who’d been reading the book at the same time as I was made that comparison and it completely slipped my mind.

    And no, I haven’t read that one. Is that one of her older titles? The last books I read by Vaughn were her Silhouette Bombshells.

  9. Carrie
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 12:43:18

    Thanks for the review, Jia! And since Kat asked, there is a sequel: THE DEAD-TOSSED WAVES, will be out in Spring 2010.

  10. Mandy Hubbard
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 12:44:21

    Wow, gotta say, I’m shocked at your C grade and overall review! If anyone is thinking of picking this one up, I really hope you’ll still do so.

    I read this in ARC form months ago, and its one I STILL think about and rave about. . . I “met” Carrie through a YA debut author group, and read the ARC before I really knew much about her or the book. And the second I read it, I thought, OMG, I CAN NOT wait until this hits shelves so I can finally talk about it with people!

    I thought it was intense, lyrical, filled with hope and yet heartbreaking…. I think some of the points you brought up at the end of your review( about the fences not lasting) are easy enough to explain. I mean, the whole premise is that the fences are finally breached, no?

    Anyway, I truly hope you guys read and decide for yourselves, because for me this one is an A+.

  11. Diana Peterfreund
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 12:46:18

    I love this book. (Disclaimer: I am Ryan’s critique partner, and it was this book that made me fall in love with her writing and ask to exchange work with her.)

    I understand your critique about wanting to know the backstory of the Sisterhood and wishing it were more like a traditional zombie horror novel, but I thought that was one of the strongest points about this book. Most zombie stories are set when the zombies show up (with the exception, I suppose, of I Am Legend, but even that is within a few years). But this is about surviving in a world where zombies are a fact of life. It’s not 28 Days Later. It’s not even 28 Years Later. It’s more like 280 Years Later. Most of these things have NOT survived. History is gone. They don’t know what has happened or why. So instead of focusing on “finding a cure” or the usual, this story focuses on the relationships of the people in it. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but, on the other hand, if you aren’t a fan of the usual zombie fare, this might be right up your alley.

    I think of it as The Handmaid’s Tale meets Dawn of the Dead.

    I can’t recommend this book enough.

  12. Maili
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 13:30:57

    Yes, it’s one of her older works. It’s a SIM (Silhouette Intimate Moments), amazingly enough. lol. Published about five years ago, perhaps?

    @Mandy Hubbard
    I'm shocked at your C grade and overall review!

    In fairness, Jia did point out she’s well versed with the horror genre including zombie films, post-apocalypse films and so forth.

    Many long-time fans tend to demand plausible explanations, especially if it sets in a long-term post-apocalypse setting. There’s a saying: if the zombies still hang around after so many years, there had better be a good reason why they last that long. That stems from a popular topic: “if they can’t feed off each other, what do they feed off? If nothing, how long can they survive? If they can survive on nothing for a long time, why bother feeding off humans in the first place?
    You hear this kind of discussions among fans almost all the time. There’s an actual book, The Zombie Survival Guide, for goodness sake. :D Let me dig up an URL.

    Since the zombie genre is a half-way house of horror fiction and science fiction, it’s no surprise one would have all these “scientific” questions in mind while reading a zombie story or watching a zombie film.

    Again in fairness, Jia did say that those who don’t know zombie films well would enjoy this more. Which was a fair thing to say, I thought.

    That’s my two pennies, anyway.

  13. Jorrie Spencer
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 13:58:32

    Going off on a tangent here, but I read Evelyn Vaughn’s SIM Buried Secrets way back when. When SIM existed. I still miss that line!

  14. Jia
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 14:09:36


    There's a saying: if the zombies still hang around after so many years, there had better be a good reason why they last that long. That stems from a popular topic: “if they can't feed off each other, what do they feed off? If nothing, how long can they survive? If they can survive on nothing for a long time, why bother feeding off humans in the first place?”

    Oh Maili, we need to discuss this book after you’ve read it, especially with regards to this topic.

  15. Chrissy
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 14:10:36

    This is a priime example of a bad (ish?) review driving business for the author. I’m disinterested in zombies in theory, but the discussion here has me including this on my to-buy list.

    And how many books have we all LOVED but couldn’t get friends to finish a chapter? Or hated, and everyone raved?

    Plus, Peterfreund said so…

  16. Diana Peterfreund
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 14:21:38

    That stems from a popular topic: “if they can't feed off each other, what do they feed off? If nothing, how long can they survive? If they can survive on nothing for a long time, why bother feeding off humans in the first place?”

    Maili, that’s an interesting point, and it brings up the topic of what is canon regarding XYZ paranormal creature. A writer friend of mine had a copyeditor who kept complaining that one couldn’t keep a vampire in prison because it would just “turn into a bat and fly away through the bars.” Not all vampires in vampire books turn into bats. Some don’t even stay away from sunlight (a’la Twilight). Playing with the “rules” of particular paranormal creatures is often what informs the most fascinating speculative fiction. There was even a vampire book a few years ago that posited that vampire’s traditional fear of crosses was actually a biological reaction of an infected person’s brain chemistry to right angles, and thus vampires (infected individuals) had to live in all round houses.

    Zombie myths similarly change over time. (In fact, Carrie Ryan has written a few essays on the topic.) Nowadays, zombies are often used as a metaphor for a pandemic, but the traditional idea of a zombie, a mindless risen dead controlled by a human shaman, was borne of the horror of slavery. Those zombies didn’t necessarily eat humans, either, and yet, they are the origin of the word zombie. In Philip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS series, “zombis” are an army of humans who have been separated from their animal familiars/souls/companions.

    Have you read PEEPS by Scott Westerfeld? It reimagines vampires as the behavioral and biological result of a parasitic organism, and uses examples of REAL parasites to justify the claims made in the text. There are REAL parasites that can change the behavior of a host for the sole purpose of spreading itself. For instance (this is the one that most sticks with me) there is a parasite that lives in the body of an ant but starts it’s life cycle in the digestive system of a cow (manure being a good feeding ground). It changes the brain chemistry of the ant to make it climb up grass stalks so it is more likely to be eaten by a grazing cow. I kid you not.

    The regular joke about zombies is they want to eat your brains, right? But zombies in movies are seen eating all kinds of human parts, not just brains. And the zombies in this book (this is just my take) are more biters. The point to me seems to be to spread the infection, not eat.

    I really love spec fic that tries to mess with my expectation of what it “should” be.

  17. Jia
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 14:30:20

    @Chrissy: FWIW, while I know C reviews are often considered “bad” grades, they typically aren’t here at DA. A bad grade is a D or an F. A C grade is average for me. That can swing either way for other readers. A friend couldn’t finish this book last time I checked but as the comments here show, other people loved it. Differences in opinion are what make book discussions more interesting — with the added bonus that the additional comments will help convince other readers to pick up the book out of curiosity.

  18. Chrissy
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 14:45:37

    Oh, I totally, concur Jia. It is actually very often the case that a tepid or even negative review contains nuggets that push me the other way.

    That was actually what I meant to convey, but perhaps phrased it poorly. So many people I know and respect react completely differently to a movie, book, or even theory.

    I actually meant to point out that all reviews are valuable, and not necessarily as a concrete guide. Australia, for example, got panned by critics. But the negatives usually focused on length and over-romanticism. I like both, so I ran right out and bought the DVD.

    I’m sure the unwillingness of many to sit through 3 hours of melodrama is quite fair for the critics. I lapped it up like cream. LOL

  19. Karen W.
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 16:01:36

    I have this book coming from the library, and I’m looking forward to seeing what I think. I usually loves me some zombies. :)

  20. Jen Hayley
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 23:07:22

    I finished this book last night and loved it. I also watch and read pretty much anything zombie-related I can get my hands on. The take on zombies and survival in this novel was a little different than what the usual zombie book or film focuses on, and that’s part of why I loved it.

    As for the newspaper clippings in the attic, if I were surviving a zombie apocalypse, I wouldn’t be worried about getting those into a museum that could potentially be overridden with the living dead. :)

  21. Jia
    Mar 18, 2009 @ 02:59:36

    As for the newspaper clippings in the attic, if I were surviving a zombie apocalypse, I wouldn't be worried about getting those into a museum that could potentially be overridden with the living dead.

    Of course not, but my question is whether they would still be intact and readable after 280 years. :)

  22. Diana Peterfreund
    Mar 18, 2009 @ 06:33:40

    Of course not, but my question is whether they would still be intact and readable after 280 years. :)

    I have a 200 year old family Bible that has never lived anywhere particularly preservative (mostly in closets) and it’s got newspaper clippings in it, birth and death dates, etc.

  23. Jen Hayley
    Mar 18, 2009 @ 10:11:44

    Of course not, but my question is whether they would still be intact and readable after 280 years. :)

    Ah, I read that wrong. Doh.

    I do think they could be intact to a certain extent, and they did fall apart when Mary attempted to go through them. I just don’t think they’d be in very good shape, and they weren’t.

  24. April
    Mar 23, 2009 @ 05:13:15

    I like this review, because I agree with a lot of it :-) Although, I do think Jia is nit-picking a bit. It’s possible that the photos and newspapers are not bug-infested. There have been old photos in my grandmother’s attic for decades, sitting up there, yellowing, but fine.

    Although, I hadn’t considered the thing with the food. I did idly wonder if the village was large enough to accomodate fields to grow grain for the livestock.

    I read this book yesterday and couldn’t put it down, so I would’ve given it a B.
    I have to agree, though, that the relationships and the stuff with the sisterhoods weren’t explained fully enough. Why was Mary’s father out in the forest? Why was Gabrielle stronger and faster? What were the sisters doing in that room? What motivated Harry and Jed at the beginning of the book to do the things they did? We never get those answers. At least we finally get to understand fully Travis’ motivation for the things he did or didn’t do. However, I felt that a lot of what was driving me toward the end of this book was a desperate need to understand these people and their motivations, and I felt a little left out in the cold at the end. Why are all of these strands brought up but not followed through?

    **possible spoiler to follower**

    Jed for instance. How could he be a person that would push his sister out of her own house at the beginning, left to the mercy of the sisterhood, never speak to her, visit her or in any way acknowledge her in the cathedral and then turn into a loving brother martyr for her at the end? It makes no sense.

    Why would Harry be a complete weenie at the beginning, leaving her to fend for herself during the siren and not helping her find her mother, then not speaking for her like he was supposed to. But later on in the book we find he has a deep, long-suffering love for her? Even after he was trying to convince his brother’s betrothed to throw over his brother and marry him? What’s up with that?

    What bothers me more is that Mary doesn’t demand answers to these questions.

    Having said all of that, I have to give a lot of credence to writing-style and enjoyability. The fact that I literally could not put this book down yesterday shows how much I enjoyed it, and I do believe that Carrie Ryan produced a very well-written book. Aside from the many unanswered questions, I enjoyed it immensely and would recommend it to others.

  25. Moth
    Mar 27, 2009 @ 00:37:42

    I’ve read a few other reviews where people complained about the ending. Can I ask someone for a spoiler here? How does it end? What’s so awful?

  26. Jia
    Mar 27, 2009 @ 03:03:21

    @Moth: I’ll say what the ending is and leave it for others to judge. It’s probably not immediately clear out of context (without the rest of the book) but here it is —
    Mary finally leaves the fenced path, leaving the surviving folks behind her (Harry, her best friend whose name escapes me right now, her brother Jed, and the little boy). Zombies swarm her. Jed saves her. They flee the zombies and climb down a drop off while zombies rain down around them. One of them hits Jed & he falls. Mary keeps climbing down after him. (They’re climb down next to a waterfall and river.) Mary falls into the river.

    When Mary wakes up, she’s on a beach and a guy is about to kill her with a shovel. She’s washed up on shore, along with all the other zombies, near another village.

    She can’t find Jed. Is he dead? Is he alive? Is he a zombie? Who knows? And we don’t know what happened to the others.

    But Mary’s finally seen the ocean.

  27. Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan « YA Fabulous
    Apr 04, 2009 @ 13:05:54

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  28. Kelly
    Jun 04, 2009 @ 20:24:59

    Weren’t the fences metal??

    But yes, utterly agree with Jia and comment 24- thoroughly enjoyed the book, but the ending totally grated (WTF happened to Harry, Cass et al.?), the whole Jed bit at the end didn’t make sense in the previous context of his behaviour, and don’t get me started on Gabrielle. She was given so much prominence with that red vest and as ‘the fast one’ but we NEVER got to hear her back story at ALL, which was deeply, deeply dissatisfying and just left me thinking that the whole thing hadn’t been thought out very well. Why make her so important if you aren’t going to tell us what happened to her (in terms of how she escaped her own village, what happened to her viallge,w hat the sisterhood did to her, how she communicated with and what she told Travis), or why she had the special powers that essentially enabled the breach? Also Sister Tabitha was such a portrait of malevolence that similarly I expected more information about her too- but nothing. Grr. C rating for me too.

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    Jun 16, 2009 @ 23:17:15

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  30. Anna
    Jul 23, 2009 @ 23:11:03

    Just wanted to point out the the fences were made of metal, not wood. Several times in the book rust is mentioned, and the rattling noises the zombies would make when rushing against the barriers. Also, the Guardians were responsible for mending the fences, which helped prolong their use.

  31. Kate
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 13:44:59

    I am in the middle of this book and really enjoying it, but agree that there a few holes I want filled. Sad to hear that they aren’t all, but I wasn’t expecting them all to be, because before finding this site I learned that this is the first in a trilogy.

    Ohh, does your spoiler mean that Travis doesn’t make it??

  32. Ash
    Sep 22, 2009 @ 00:34:18

    i LOVE zombie books, but this kinda has to do with a love story in a womans perspective through many complications
    im a guy. . .
    that being said i want to know if this book is directed towards everyone
    not having a twilight kinda feel to it, if that makes sence : P

  33. The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 09:07:25

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  34. Nick
    Feb 25, 2010 @ 22:43:47

    I actually think the ending was appropriate to the rest of the book, in being thoroughly mediocre at best.

    Specifically, my complaints were as follows: I thought the characters were clichéd and obvious. The characters displayed no emotions beyond what the author told you directly. Everyone reacts in trite, predictable, lame ways to everything. Also, the writer’s style was juvenile, overly descriptive but lacking in imagination. Diction also was poor. (“The Unconsecrated have no avarice” (294)?? My advice to the author is: don’t use big words unless you know what they mean.) Finally, plot-wise, everything that happens in the book just seems senseless and random. There was no progression, only isolated events with no connection between them. Without a plot or characters, the book had no momentum and became swiftly repetitive and boring.

    All in all, the only thing I liked about this book was the title.

  35. The Forest of Hands and Teeth | Tales of a Capricious Reader
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  36. Miranda
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 15:23:36

    I absolutely loved this book. I just finished reading it today, and I already started The Dead Tossed Waves a few short moments ago. (:

  37. Hannah
    Jan 06, 2013 @ 09:11:11

    The first part of this book had immense promise. There was the mystery of the Sisterhood and of Gabrielle, and the love triangle (rectangle?) is pushed into the background. At the beginning, the driving force of the plot is the mystery of perhaps a conspiracy; however, as the book continues on, it seems that fulfilling Mary’s fantasies is the main focus. Escaping the village and finding a new place to live isn’t what’s important, though it is was should be, but rather “getting to the ocean” is Mary’s number one concern. To me, that just seems selfish. It seems like, in this book, the author had a certain purpose, an ending that she absolutely wanted to happen (which, I thought the ending was completely insane) and she didn’t allow the characters to come alive and become people or for the world to truly take root. Oh, look, a house with a bunch of food in it! A chest with food and water! The characters didn’t really have to “survive,” they just stumbled upon good circumstances. Travis, Cass, Harry, and Jed were all pretty two-dimensional characters, and there wasn’t much conversation between the characters that showed that they had been friends since children. Also, they acted in ways that was illogical to their (barely-there) characterization: Jed, at first, completely abandons Mary to the Sisterhood, but at the end he risks his life for her? The writing style suffers from telling, instead of showing: instead of showing the reader that Mary is sad, Ms. Ryan says that Mary is sad.
    *possible spoilers*
    At first, I found Mary to be a rather relate-able character. Often in YA fiction, the heroine is painted as above human desire, and too focused for things like love or even crushes, and this is typically what draws their love interests to them (there’s exceptions, but I’ve seen this too many times.) Mary has human feelings of desire, of curiosity, of wanting love instead of fulfilling duty. At first, it was refreshing. However, by the end, it turned Mary into an unlikeable character that gets her brother and her love interest killed, and leaving Cass, a 5 or 7 (I can’t remember which) -year-old boy, a dog, and Harry alone in the Forest to fend for themselves. To me, that is selfish to the point of absurdity. If the story had went along a different path, perhaps investigating the Sisterhood or the cause of Gabrielle, instead of pursuing a dream, it could have been a much better book. At the end, I felt very little attachment to the characters or to the world…I didn’t care that Travis died, or that Jed died. I was only angry at Mary. Did the author try to make Mary a tragic hero, her fatal flaw being her curiosity and her dreams? Or was it just a way for Ms. Ryan to live out a fantasy of living in a post-apocalyptic world whilst having two hot, young guys totally in love with her?
    I was left with only one lasting, emotional experience from the book: Mary comes upon a poor little zombie baby. I don’t know why, but that scene really got to me. It made me cry, actually. The idea of it just disgusts and horrifies me. I thought from then on, the book would be brutally realistic, but no, it just continued with it’s love triangle. Mary didn’t remember that poor little baby; she just walked outside, dropped it on it’s head, and hoped it died. I know there’s not much you can do for a zombie baby (dear God, don’t breast-feed it…), but it would’ve been nice to see how Mary was affected by her experiences. I think this point is where I started to dislike the narrator, and once you dislike the narrator, can you really enjoy the book?

  38. Carla
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 18:27:39

    The fence wasn’t made of wood, it clearly states many times over that it is made of METAL, that the founders left supplies that eventually allowed them to expand the borders…even more clearly, lace metal…not too sure what exactly that is, but in other parts of the story the fence is described as chainlink…overall this is one of my favorite series. It is different than anything else I have ever read/watched about zombies. Mary’s world reminds me a lot of the existence of the people in the movie by M. Night Shyamalan, the Village, where everyone dresses like they did in the 1800’s or so. And lives in the same manner as that time period. Instead of a government there is an oppressive religious Sisterhood, controlling everything, who ultimately cause the destruction of Mary’s home. While it would have been nice to have some of these things cleared up, like for example, where exactly does the story take place, exact geological location, as well as what the Sisterhood was hiding, what really happened to Gabrielle, etc, none of that is essential to the story. You get to know the characters very well. I don’t feel that Mary is bratty or self-centered, she’s always been caged up and knows within herself that her village could not possibly be the only place where humans live. This truth drives her to leave the village, and had a breach not occurred I believe Mary would have left the village eventually anyway. The way the story is written (first person present tense) makes it very easy to identify with Mary, even if we don’t always agree with her choices or understand her. As the series progresses, it becomes easier and easier to believe that such a catastrophe could occur…as told in the story, nobody knew what caused the Return. Today, in our world, we have no idea what sort of medical and biological advances are being made, perhaps in secret underground labs…scientists are all ultimately working towards the same goal – to stop aging and eventual death, and reanimation after death…therefore, it isn’t too much of a leap to assume that this is what happened in the series of the Forest. Although, there is one thing I just can’t seem to wrap my head around. How could the infection get so far out of control and NEVER be contained? Yes it could happen, but eventually the people in the story should have been able to beat them back – EVENTUALLY, but as the series progresses, that never happens. And as you continue into Mary’s world, and then Gabry’s and Annah’s, it becomes very easy to imagine such a world existing for real.

  39. Carla
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 18:32:25

    Avarice is described as “extreme greed for wealth and material gain.” Clearly that is not something zombies would be interested in, so the word fits.

  40. Carla
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 19:27:08

    I think many of you are missing the point of the story. It is about MARY – her views, her opinions, her wishes, her dreams, her needs, her mistakes. If you didn’t get a real connection between her and Travis or Harry, that’s because hello, she really didn’t have much time to deal with any of it. Harry asked for her, but then her mother died, Jed was pissed at her for letting that happen, which is why he pushed her away and wanted nothing to do with her. Ever been so mad at someone for something (even if it really wasn’t their fault) that you didn’t want to see or talk to them? Yeah. That’s what happened with Jed. Then when Travis gets hurt, while she helps to care for him, she falls in love with him. Then she learns he belongs to her best friend Cass who in turn is really in love with Harry (they became close as a result of Travis’ absence while sick and confined in the Cathedral). Travis didn’t come to speak for her like he said he would, and Mary didn’t want to end up becoming a Sister, so she allowed choices to be made for her – the lesser of two evils, if you will. Then the breach happened and Mary, Cass, Jacob (6 years old) Harry, Travis, Jed and his wife Beth, escape into the paths of the Forest. The whole story is about Mary, her dreams, and what she ultimately wants.

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