Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Carrie Ryan

Mary and all those who live in her village are surrounded by the forest. Not any forest but the Forest of Hands and Teeth. The forest out of which the Unconsecrated relentlessly attack the fence that surrounds the village, the fence that protects the villagers. Mary’s father has disappeared, and it is assumed that he was bitten, that he has now become one of the Unconsecrated. Mary’s mother waits by the fence, determined that her husband will return to her, but he doesn’t, and one day she gets too close and gets bitten. She is given a choice – be killed immediately or to become one of the Unconsecrated and be cast out of the village. Because she hopes that she will find her husband, she chooses the latter, and Mary, who cannot bear to leave her until the end, has to watch her mother die, knowing she will turn into a horrible, flesh-eating monster.

Mary’s brother is so upset by what has happened that he turns against her and tells her to join the Sisterhood, a group of unmarried women who live in the Cathedral, direct the villagers in their faith in God, and hold many of the secrets behind what has happened to the village. Mary has lost her faith in God, but she has no choice but to go to the Sisters. As part of her duties, she nurses the fiancĂ© of her best friend and falls in love with him. As it is obvious to the head Sister that Mary doesn’t belong among them, eventually Mary is offered the chance to marry – not to the man she loves but to his brother. Mary is torn, she feels as though she has no good option, but before any wedding occurs, the village is attacked and the fence is breached. Mary and just six others escape while the rest of the village is destroyed by the Unconsecrated. Now they must follow a narrow path surrounded by a fence, trying to find a place where they can be safe.

It is obvious from the first sentence that Carrie Ryan is a wonderful writer, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a hauntingly beautiful book. It is also dark and sad but I absolutely could not put it down. It is the first book in a trilogy, and it will be difficult to wait until spring when the next volume is available.

I do have one question for the author. This book is set on Earth in the future after some sort of apocalyptic event that has caused the zombies to be created. Because there is an old cathedral in the village and there was once an old vineyard there, I would have guessed that the book is set somewhere in Europe, perhaps in France. However, at one point Mary finds an old page from The New York Times, implying that the setting is the former United States. I would love to know where she planned for the book to take place.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is on the middle school portion of the North Carolina Young Adult Book Award 2009 – 2010 list.

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