I finally read The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan after having friends recommend it and urging me to read it. Even though I devoured it, I felt on the fence about whether I liked the novel or not.
While well written stylistically, the content had me frowning at various points. This was definitely a strong story that was fraught with plot holes and weak character development, especially with the protagonist Mary.
“In Mary’s world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future—between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?”
Before I give the impression that I disliked this novel, let me make something clear: Novels with protagonists who blindly follow their own selfish desires in a world that has many greater problems, despite the characters around them, drive me insane. Sure, the concept was cool and I enjoyed the terror that the characters experienced, but it wasn’t anywhere near a perfect book for me.
1. I don’t mean to be fickle, but this novel needed a bit more editing. I usually don’t mention editing issues if it isn’t so blatant that it disturbs my reading, but this novel had it enough times to make me comment on it. I know some editing errors are little mistakes that become nearly invisible in a novel of three hundred or more pages, but yeah, these errors occurred everywhere. Grammatical errors, typos—ugh.
Another point under the whole “editing” thing: awkwardly phrased sentences. When this occurred it would disrupt my reading and I would actually try to rearrange the words until they made sense. I shouldn’t have to do that with a published book!
2. I really, really disliked Mary. She was naive, selfish, immature, indecisive and annoying. What kind of person risks the lives of those she loves just so she can see the ocean? Yeah, I get that the ocean is a metaphor for hope and for faith, but come on. It was so drawn out, I wanted to pull my hair out.
Since I’m talking about Mary, why don’t I bring in the other characters as well? The only character that I really cared for was the protagonist’s love interest, Travis. He was, in my opinion, well developed, but his relationship with Mary fell flat. In fact, many relationships with Mary fell flat. Why? Because she was a weak protagonist. The other characters tried to be developed, but most of them failed.
3. There are so many things that left me confused at the end! Some questions were left so open-ended that it is very difficult for me to come to a conclusion. I know there is a sequel, but I don’t know if I’ll be reading it.
4. By the way, how can a village in the middle of ass-crack nowhere know what salt tastes like? I’ve always been curious about that with certain books. If you are so far away from the ocean and you have no way of going into the outside world, how can you procure salt, let alone know what it would taste or smell like?
5. The romance wasn’t as strong as it could have been because of Mary’s constant whining and unhappiness.
6. The beginning was slow! I was expecting some great adventure with zombies, but didn’t get my wish until well into the novel.
1. Ryan’s book had some creepy moments, effectively scaring me and making me curious. Ryan is also gifted at eerily describing surroundings.
2. When certain characters died I actually cried. Yes, I cried. Ryan’s characters may be weak, but she has a way with words so as to rouse a reaction from her readers.
3. Let’s ignore for a moment the writing and focus on what a perturbing picture this plot paints for us. We have a post-apocalyptic world where cities have fallen and zombies have devoured most of humanity. Then insert a character who’s need to see the ocean is as dangerous as literally jumping into a hoard of zombies. If anything, Ryan succeeds in showing the fragility of humanity and the dangers of curiosity.
4. Let’s face it, Ryan teaches us that a girl can dream. Even if there are deadly consequences.
5. Ryan is pretty good at redeeming characters when they’ve failed the reader’s expectations. See point two in the positives to see what I mean.
6. It was pretty cool when Mary finds the old newspaper clippings and pictures. I think that was one of the neatest parts of this novel.
With so many mixed reviews, it’s easy to be indecisive when it comes to deciding whether I liked or disliked the book. For me though, I’m going to remain on the fence because though I obviously disliked various parts and characters, I didn’t hate the story. If Mary were more mature and less selfish, then this book would have gone down a completely different path. Instead, Ryan made her character slightly cliched and just a nuisance.
I give Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth: