The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. Delacorte Press, Random House. Publication Date: April 2009. Advance Reader's Copy supplied by publisher.
Mary's life in the village is predictable. The Sisterhood, the Guardians, and the Guild keep the secrets and protect the village. People follow the rules, whether it's staying away from the Fence or marrying the person you should, not the person you want. When Mary loses her parents and her family, she begins to ask questions and to want more than to love or be loved. Before she can figure out the answers, the Unconsecrated threaten to overrun the village.
I can't help myself on this one.
Zombies! And good, old-fashioned zombies: dead, slow moving, moaning, hungry, stoppable only in the traditional ways. And, most importantly -- the zombies are horrible, scary, terrifying, ever-present. All you who read and loved World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War don't have to know anything else; you will love this book. Trust me.
Now, for those of you who I didn't have at "zombie."
The Forest of Hands and Teeth, like any good horror movie (or Buffy), uses the threat (here, zombies) as a metaphor. Mary wrestles with questions about life and love, about asking questions or staying happy with the status quo of her life. The walking dead represent both Mary's fears and her limited choices.
Ryan uses language beautifully; the true horror of the Unconsecrated (never zombie) is revealed slowly. Mary has always known them, as they claw at the Fence, moaning, a constant soundtrack in her life. "...I hear a familiar clank. It is the sound of the Unconsecrated pulling at the fence. Looking around, I realize that I have come up in a small clearing far away from the village that is protected by a ring of fence twice as tall as I am. The Unconsecrated are beginning to swarm around me. Two steps in any direction and they could reach me through the metal links. Blood hammers through my body, panic clouding my vision, making my hands shake and pound with the rhythm of my heart."
But the language isn't just awesome when describing the zombies and horror; there is also the everyday joys. Mary falls in love with one boy; yet it's his brother who loves her. "It's a warm day and he's sweating and I press my mouth against his skin, tasting his salt on my lips. I want to melt into him, to forget every barrier between us and it is everything I can do to suck in air and sit here and not press myself harder against him. He's not mine but Cass's and I know I should turn away, leave this place. But I am not strong enough to do so. Just this last time I want to revel in his essence, to wrap it around me like a memory."
And, with death around her -- the dead literally surrounding the village every day -- there is still the loss felt by someone dying. "Never did I wonder what my mother believed. What sort of life my mother lived at my age. So acutely do I miss her at this moment that I want to crawl into myself with shame and longing."
Does Mary find love? Do the zombies break through the Fence? Will we get more books in this haunting, haunted, beautifully shown future world?
Finally, Carrie Ryan is a lawyer. As a former lawyer myself, you know I love authors who are lawyers!
Edited to add: My first Favorite Book Read in 2009!
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