The Forest of Hands and Teeth: Great debut

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Carrie Ryan The Forest of Hands and TeethThe Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

CLASSIFICATION: The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a post-apocalyptic tale of survival, zombies and love. Its M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village” meets George A. Romero meets Stephenie Meyer

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 320 pages divided over thirty-six Roman-numbered chapters. Narration is in the first-person, exclusively via the protagonist Mary. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is self-contained, but there is ample scope for sequels, and the author is actually working on another book set in the same milieu.

March 10, 2009 marked the North American Hardcover publication of The Forest of Hands and Teeth via Delacorte. Cover art provided by Jonathan Barkat. The UK version was published by Gollancz on July 16, 2009.

ANALYSIS: Every once in a while, I come across a book that completely sucks me in from the very first page. Sometimes it’s because of a great opening line. Other times it’s because of the prose or an intriguing hook. In the case of Carrie Ryan’s debut novel, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, it was because of Mary’s heartfelt and compelling first-person narrative:

My mother used to tell me about the ocean. She said there was a place where there was nothing but water as far as you could see and that it was always moving, rushing toward you and then away. She once showed me a picture that she said was my great-great-great grandmother standing in the ocean as a child. It has been years since, and the picture was lost to fire long ago, but I remember it, faded and worn. A little girl surrounded by nothingness.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsFrom the beginning of the novel when Mary loses a loved one and her in faith in God; to her time spent in the Sisterhood; to enduring a painful love quandary between her, her best friend Cass, and the brothers Harry and Travis; to finally embarking on a desperate quest in search of life outside of the Forest, Mary’s story is a haunting one, made all the more powerful by how expressive her thoughts and feelings are. For instance, when Mary feels pain, whether from the loss of a loved one or heartbreak, the reader feels that pain, too. And it’s the same when Mary experiences discontent at her life in the village, affection for the man she loves, hope for the future, or any number of other emotions.

But The Forest of Hands and Teeth is not all about Mary, even if her eloquent narrative is the book’s best feature. For one, the vividly portrayed village setting with its fences, Guardians, Sisterhood, Vows of Eternal Constancy, and other rituals is very interesting, especially when secrets (Outsider, Fast Ones) come to light that make Mary and friends question the ‘truths’ they grew up with. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is also incredibly atmospheric, with the constant groaning and shuffling of the Unconsecrated adding a pervading sense of menace to an already dark and gloomy novel. Finally, the book is surprisingly horrific for a young adult title, not so much from a gory standpoint — although there is plenty of that — but more from a psychological one with a zombie baby, having to kill someone you love, and other scenes sure to linger in the reader’s mind.

Negatively, I just had a few minor issues with the book including some lulls in the pacing of the novel; a bunch of questions about the Return, the Sisterhood and the villages that were left unanswered; and how Mary, Cass, Harry, Travis, Mary’s brother Jed and his wife were the only ones to escape from the village — aside from a boy and a dog — which I felt was highly convenient, considering all of the drama between those characters. But overall, The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a novel with very few weaknesses.

CONCLUSION: The Forest of Hands and Teeth may be marketed as a Young Adult title — which is evident by its accessibility and teen sensibilities — but don’t let such labels prevent you from reading this book. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is an astonishing debut, skillfully written by Carrie Ryan, poignantly narrated by Mary, powerfully unforgettable, and better than advertised. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is one of the best debuts of the year.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth — (2009-2013) Young adult. Publisher: In Mary’s world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future — between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?

fantasy book reviews Carrie Ryan The Forest of Hands and Teethfantasy and science fiction book reviewsfantasy and science fiction book reviews


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ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

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