The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a YA postapocalyptic, literary zombie novel by Carrie Ryan.
I know what you're thinking - "literary" zombie novel? Yep, never read anything like it!
Well, that's not exactly true. The whole reason I became obsessed with reading The Forest of Hands and Teeth (beyond the amazing title) is the short story Carrie Ryan wrote in Kiss Me Deadly, a compilation of a bunch of stunning stories written by some of today's best YA paranormal authors. It was called Hare Moon and it took place in the same world, the same village as The Forest of Hands and Teeth - and it was flat out spectacular. So I knew that I absolutely had to read The Forest of Hands and Teeth.
So, lets get to the synopsis, shall we?
Mary lives in a village surrounded by a fence. The fence keeps out the Unconsecrated that live in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, those who have Returned after being Infected - and whose hunger and moans never cease. The Guardians protect the fence, make sure it holds, make sure there won't be a breach. There hasn't been a breach in years. The Sisterhood knows best, and directs the village towards the survival of mankind.
The time is coming when Mary will be claimed and her life of commitment with a husband will begin. After all, in order to survive there must be children. And in a village plagued with miscarriages and barrenness, this is prized above almost anything else.
Yet Mary has never been like other villagers. Her mother has told her of the ocean, a place so many believe is nothing but a ridiculous dream - an impossibility. Mary longs to leave the village, to know of more. To see that they are not the last of mankind, as they've always been told. That there is hope. But secrets begin to reveal themselves to Mary, and what she has always known to be true is thrown into questioning and suspicion.
But then the unthinkable happens. The fence is breached. The Unconsecrated get in. And everything and everyone is in chaos. Mary is faced with unthinkable choices - between the brother she yearns for and the brother she's bound to, between the falling village and the uncertain place the fences old and worn path leads to.
And the Unconsecrated just keep coming.
Oh my. Okay, so my expectations were high from the short story. And my expectations were met - and exceeded. But my, oh my... What an unsettling book! The Forest of Hands and Teeth is horror through and through, written superbly and uniquely - causing a gripping, insanely intriguing, and darkly disturbing result.
I was on pins and needles practically the entire time - totally freaked out by its delicately terrifying, lyrically and deceptively simple prose, and the nonstop shocking turn of events that kept leaving me breathless. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is intense (to put it lightly) and heart-poundingly scary - its horror done almost too well!
Carrie Ryan managed to horrify and sicken me with a world that felt too real to be filled with flesh-eating zombies. She brought it to an entirely different level than any shtick with zombies could be. There was absolutely nothing cartoonish about Mary's story, a heroine flawed but lovely, naive but wise beyond her years, strong and perfect as a main character.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth never ceased to stun me, leaving me with an unforgettably nightmarish experience that was sprinkled with enough humanity, love, hope, and beauty to make it as effectual as it was.
I was heartbroken and exhausted by the end. And ready to see what was going to happen next in the sequel The Dead-Tossed Waves. And all the more wowed by the new implications of the short story Hare Moon, which I now realize to be an incredible prequel, and a must-read to any fan of The Forest of Hands and Teeth!
Have you read it, my fellow bibliophiles? Were you as floored as I was? I'd love to hear your thoughts!