Carrie Ryan: The Forest of Hands and Teeth (2010)

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. 

I don’t think it is a coincidence that books like Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth are so popular. All around me people speak about their insecurities, how they have lost their confidence, their belief that all will stay the way it is, that they are safe. Many fear that the world as we know it may come to an end.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is set in a time, long after the world as we know it has come to an end. A strange illness broke out, called The Return, and since then the world is divided in the people living in the village, guarded by the Sisterhood and the Guardians and those, behind the fences, who live in the forest, the so-called Unconsecrated. The Unconsecrated are living dead, zombies, who spread their disease through biting the living.

The story is told by Mary whose father has disappeared in the forest and possibly become one of the Unconsecrated and whose mother approaches the fence at the beginning of the book and turns. Her brother is a guardian. Mary will mostly probably get married to Harry, that’s the wish of the community and the Sisterhood who reign over this enclosed world. Harry and Mary have been friends forever, just like Cass and Mary have been friends. What nobody knows is that Mary is in love with Travis, Harry’s brother.

Until the day when the Unconsecrated breach the fence and kill almost all the villagers, it’s not clear whether Mary will join the Sisterhood or become a wife and mother. When their world collapses and they have to flee, it’s not that important anymore. Mary and a group of six people and a dog escape the village and reach a secret path that leads through the forest. The path is secured by a fence through which the moaning Unconsecrated try to reach them.

The path is like a maze. It’s mysterious and they do not know where they are going. There were tales of cities and an ocean somewhere beyond the forest. They don’t have a lot of food and are attacked constantly. When they arrive at an abandoned village they hope they may soon arrive at their destination and find safety.

The beginning of the story is unlike the stories in any zombie movie, I have ever seen. In the movies the zombies usually attack from the start and the people have to fight them. In this novel, for a long time, they are just a threatening presence and the book is all atmosphere but then, they close in on them and breach one gate after the other and the book turns into an action-packed novel that moves towards a climatic ending. Climatic and sad as some of the small group of survivors are bitten on the way.

I never felt like reading a zombie novel before and if it hadn’t been for Sarah’s intriguing review I wouldn’t have tried this book but I’m glad I did. It has a very special and haunting atmosphere, very captivating and oddly enthralling. The word zombies, is never used, by the way, but it’s clear from the descriptions. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is part I of a trilogy. I won’t rush to read part II and III right now but I feel like reading them some day.

Here’s another review by Fence (Susan Hated Literature).