The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

I don’t normally blog about unsatisfactory books (I blog about a tenth of what I read), but I had to make an exception for the turgid sad sack that is The Forest of Hands and Teeth.  I should really have paid attention to my crap-o-meter instead of a New York Times best-seller blurb and a  School Library Journal rave  and the  movie deal. This YA novel is set in a post-apocalyptic world filled with  Zombies and dead characters, notably  a heroine who has spent so much time familiarizing herself with her navel that she now can’t tell her ass from her elbow. Even as the shadow of the giant asteroid darkens, Mary will be writing in her leaf journal with her twig pen about her feelings of inadequacy and her guilt issues with her mother, who really should not have abandoned her though bitten by a Zombie.

We are told by other characters what Mary is like, rather than Mary showing us herself. We are told that two men are in love with Mary, and I’m grateful for that telling, for I wouldn’t have believed it without explicit instruction.

And as for the romantic angle, um, let’s see. Mary loves A, A loves Mary.  There’s no real problem with the match–they aren’t secretly siblings, or  zombies-in-the-making,  or even separated by social class. But B loves Mary. So of course Mary hooks up with B, and A with C. EVEN THOUGH C LOVES B. Even though all signs indicate that B would have been perfectly happy with C.  Give me one reason, Ryan, to give a shit about this setup.

And plot holes. If a fence separates the village from the zombies, wouldn’t your #1 priority be ensuring that the said fence is in good order?

The Forest… is written in prose that really really wants to get into The New Yorker.  I’m ALL  for literary writing, but not when it’s the equivalent of a shrug, cast on and off at the author’s whim.  Every crisp action sequence is atoned for by reams of self-conscious prose.  Mary will render twenty zombies into pulp and pith,  but then remember she’s sensitive. And so, “I ask her if she wants to join me in finding shapes in the clouds and we spend the afternoon side by side looking at the sky as if the world around us is not as it has always been.”

The book isn’t all bad–there’s the superb title, the interesting religious allegories, it makes you  want to know how it ends,  and there’s the ending itself, which while unsatisfactory and abrupt, is set up nicely for a sequel. Don’t get me wrong–I don’t grudge Ryan or this book its success, and am  happy for those who loved it, but I am just so bloody disappointed.  And now that my howl of outrage is done, I’ll go back to being nice and all Canadian-like in my reviews.


5 thoughts on “The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

  1. I agree, it was rather disappointing. The premise and the writing wasn’t bad at all. My issue was mostly that I seriously disliked Mary. Occasionally she would do something cool or actually show some interest in someone other than herself, and I’d think ok, maybe she’s redeemable and she’s growing up. And then she’d go back to her navel-gazing and self-absorbed bubble, and then her intense selfishness often seemed to get someone killed. Maybe that was Ryan’s moral, navel-gazing is so wrong that you put everyone else in danger?

    Nah, probably giving her too much credit.

  2. I’m not sure how old you people are but I think teenagers or young adults would like the book more than others. Besides isn’t this her first book? The first ones arnt always the best if your an unexpierienced writer or young…like so

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