Title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth (The Forest of Hands and Teeth #1)
Author: Carrie Ryan
Publisher: Delacorte Books for a Young Readers, 2009
Genre: YA Dystopian, YA Horror, YA Paranormal
I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I picked up this book. It was worth every late fee I’ve collected by being unable to renew it (it comes from another library). Engrossing from beginning to end. And it was TOTALLY different than what I thought it was about.
And it’s going to be a movie. (Squeal!)
Anyway, let’s get onto it!
The book starts with Mary, who tells us that she had longed to see the ocean…her mother had told her stories about it for, before the Return. This is integral as it becomes almost an obsession of Mary’s…a desire to see more and not settle. Anyway, she is washing clothes in the river, knowing that her mother is waiting for her to come home. Every day they walk to the fence together while Mary’s mother searches the faces of the Unconsecrated to find her husband, Mary’s father. He became infected and now Mary’s mother searches for his face among what can only in our experience recognize as zombies. Harry is at the pond, and asks Mary to go to the Harvest celebration, a time of courtship amd marriage vows. As Mary thinks about Harry’s brother Travis, a siren goes off: this usually means a breach in the perimeter and an infected person is loose in the town. Mary knows immediately what has happened: her mother didn’t wait for her, and she was bitten while getting too close to the fence.
This is true: Mary’s mother has a choice now; she can go live in the Forest of Hands and Teeth among the other Unconsecrateds, or see can be put out of her misery. Mary’s mother chooses exile, and Mary knows this is only because of her missing father. The decision is taboo: many would rather die than live among the flesh-eaters. Once her brother Jeb comes home with the other Guardians, he tells Mary that she shouldn’t have let her mother live. Mary explains it was her mother’s choice. Jeb decides to send her to live with the Sisterhood (religious nuns that run the village), and he kicks Mary out of their home since he is the male heir, and no one has asked for Mary’s hand.
While living with the Sisterhood, Mary must be silent until she reads the Scripture five times. While she awaits her vows, Travis comes in with a badly broken leg. At one point, he is barely conscious and asks for water, so Mary brings it to him. He asks her to pray for him, but Mary isn’t supposed to speak. However, she instead whispers into Travis’s ear about the ocean, and feeds him snow to bring his fever down. As time goes on, Mary realizes that she is really falling in love with Travis, but he is betrothed her her best friend, Cass. Travis seems to feel the same way. One night, when she sneaks into his room to see him, the Sisterhood secrets away a girl in a red coat. Mary realizes that this girl is an Outsider, which means that their village may not be the only one that survived the infection and the Return…there could be others. While with Travis, hidden under his covers, she hears the sisters in the next room hide the girl. When Mary realizes how close she is to Travis, she sneaks back out, only to see the girl at the window. They wave to each other, and the girl writes on the fogged-up glass: XIV. What does this mean? When Mary tries to find the girl again, she is gone.
Why would the Sisterhood hide the existence of Outsiders? And what did they do with her? As Mary tries to find out, she’ll realize the answers she’s searching for made lead her to the ocean she so dreams of seeing…but may cost her the secret love she’s ignited with Travis.
Is It Classroom-Appropriate?
Finally I can say…YES! This book would be excellent to view from a utopia/dystopia POV. Mary’s town is idyllic in some ways, but is a nightmare in others. There are so many topics to explore, like the fact that the women hold the power in this future society, but yet the society is still quite patriarchal. There’s also the religious aspects: G-d in the book is the same as ours, but he is used differently when it comes to worship (the book isn’t preachy, but the Sisterhood uses religion to determine courses of action and the rules of the village). It’s a book about the future that reflects much of the past as well (i.e. Post-apocalyptic, fall of civilization). I’m adding this to my list of possible future Unit Plan books!
Lexile.com gives this book a score of 900L, so it’s definitely appropriate for 13 and up…12 if they are an advanced reader. There is no HL because the book does not deal with mature content (though the sequel is designated HL…and I haven’t read it….so I can only vouch for book one). There’s no swearing, and no sex. Pretty clean compared to YA nowadays! I would feel totally comfortable letting Jayden, my twelve year old niece, read this book. There are some scary scenes with the Unconsecrateds, but nothing too gory or too intense. This book is like Goldilock’s porridge: not too hot, not too cold…just right.
I’m giving The Forest of Hands and Teeth ★★★★★! While I won’t ruin the ending (hell, I barely spoiled the book: so MUCH more happens but you just got to read it to see), I will say that the book ends openly…we are left to wonder of Mary’s choices were right. It’s very character-focused, mainly on Mary as we are told the story from a first-person POV (my favorite). We go on the journey with Mary together.
I will admit I even cried at one point (it might be hormones due to an unrelated incident…I’d probably cry during a car commercial right now)! This was a moving story with a hint of secrets and betrayal, love and heartbreak.
So goo out and grab it it! Happy Reading!