Thursday, December 10, 2009
REVIEW: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Ryan, C. (2009). The Forest of Hands and Teeth. New York: Delacorte Press.
30-Second Summary: Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Mary lives in a village, fortified by walls and fences. Beyond the village is the Forest of Hands and Teeth, where the unconsecrated live, ready to bite and attack anyone who leaves the safety of the village. After dawdling by a stream with a boy named Harry, Mary's mother, who is still mourning the loss of her husband, is infected by the unconsecrated by the fence. Losing what sense of family Mary has left, she has little choice but to join the sisterhood, the religious organization that helped protect the city. As Mary begins her training she bonds with Travis, the boy she has always loved and she catches sight of a stranger, leading her to believe their might be a safe way to pass through the forest.
Wow. That summary took more than 30 seconds to type. It probably took more than thirty seconds to read. The moral of this? The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a complicated text that works on a number of levels. Be aware!
I have to admit, I had trouble getting into the book. Serious trouble. I think my issue with the text is a little different than many other readers out there (who may have trouble with the book because of the fantasy element or the darker aspects of its content). I was fine with it being set in a post-apocalyptic world. I was also cool with the darkness. I didn't like the protagonist, Mary. I found that she was all over the place emotionally. Up and down. Up and down. And I didn't really want to follow her. Up and down. Up and down. For example, on page 112, she starts out with her "whole body flooding with fear and hope and joy." A few paragraphs later she wants "to crumble right there, to fall into [her]self until [she is] nothing more than a heap of emptiness on the floor." And by the end of the page a thought has fallen like a "stone" inside her stomach. I guess that means she's not a heap of emptiness anymore.
I just wasn't there with her, being *ahem* empty one moment and filled the next.
From what I can tell, a lot of readers are right-there-with-Mary throughout the story. My problem with Mary may actually be a personality thing. I like my people to be steady, consistent. People who are all over the place emotionally kinda drive me crazy. I guess I just like people to resemble inanimate objects. So, Mary drove me crazy. So, much so I kept hoping for more of her loved-ones to die (since I doubted that, as the narrator, Mary would be leaving the story). I also started to contemplate how, were I Mary's mother, I too might consider allowing myself to be bitten by a zombie unconsecrated person in the hope of becoming consumed by an undying hunger because it's gotta be better than listening to Mary's never-ending whining.
Wow, it felt good to type all that.
Take the above as a grain of salt, my few but dear readers. I clearly was driven a bit insane by all of Mary's emotional chaos. There is a lot of beauty to this text. Ryan's language is often very poetic. Her word choices encourage readers to think of the text as allegory or as an exploration of issues of belief and choices. Carrie Ryan demonstrates that she is truly evil-minded capable at keeping her characters in a state of suffering and tension.
Initially some of the religious wording was a little off-putting for me too. But once I eased into that, I found a more compelling thing to nit-pick. I had trouble with Travis as Mary's love interest. At the start of the novel, all we know about him is that Mary is already interested in him and Travis has chosen to court Mary's best friend, Cass. The first we actually see of Travis is as an injured, fevered ball in the care of the Sisterhood, during which time, Mary falls completely in love with him. Now, we do see a cute moment or two during this time--for example, Mary whispering description of what a fabled ocean looks like. Nice, but it still doesn't show me what's so endearing and wonderful about Travis.
The Dead-Tossed Waves, will be out in March.
That's not too long of a wait. And I'll probably make a point of reading it. At some point....
After Dinner Exercises:
While this might be best as an individual recommendation, the novel can provoke discussions about power and the way authority figures control information, questions of trust and when to challenge the status-quo.
This could also be used in young adult religious reading circles since the book takes on issues of faith, blind trust in religious organizations, choice and determinism. Groups could also discuss the way that the unconsecrated hunger for flesh and the sexual significance that could have. This could channel into discussions of marriage and whether the institution should be about love alone or about commitment and support.
On a lighter note, the book could feed into a lesson on roman numerals, since they enter into the content of the text with the assumption that the reader will not immediately know their significance.
Quotes of Note:
"My mother used to tell me about the ocean. She said there was a place where there was nothing but water as far as you could see and that it was always moving, rushing toward you and then away. She once showed me a picture that she said was my great-great-great-grandmother standing in the ocean as a child. It has been years since, and the picture was lost to fire long ago, but I remember it, faded and worn. A little girl surrounded by nothingness" (p. 1).
"All my life I have trained by that siren. Before I could walk I knew the siren meant death. It meant somehow the fences had been breached and the Unconsecrated were shuffling among us" (p. 6).
"In my village an unmarried woman has three choices. She may live with her family; a man may speak for her, court her through the winter and marry her in the spring ceremonies; or she may join the Sisterhood. Our village has been isolated since soon after the Return and while we have grown strong and populous over the years, it is still imperative that every healthy young man and woman wed and breed if possible" (pp. 24-25).
"The path is forbidden to everyone: villagers, Sisters, Guardians. Never have I seen this gate opened, never have I seen someone use this path.
Someone from Outside has come to our village.
Which means that there is an Outside--something beyond the Forest" (p. 59).
Tasty Rating: !!!