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.