Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

The Forest of Hands and Teeth  - Carrie Ryan

Never, and I will repeat NEVER read this book while you are working nightshift and you're alone and it's pretty dark and you can hear the wind and snow whipping against the patio doors ... NEVER !!! Just don't do it to yourselves !!!

In my opinion (bearing in mind I'm a bit of a wimp ...) this book is creepy, intense and downright scary as fuck in some places! 
It is so far from the usual YA garbage I enjoy reading/torturing myself with and I loved it. I can see why some would hate it. It is basically a black hole of nothingness. It is filled with despair and pain and misery ... but damn is it good! 
Despite being completely batshit crazy for the majority of the book, Mary is like a breath of fresh air for me having come straight from Nora (Hush Hush) and Luce's (Fallen) sad little stories of pondering over whether their frightening, violent and abusive crushes like them while trying to get their biology papers turned in on time and worrying about their hair .... Mary has fricken zombies baying for her blood! Her mother and father are dead and returned as "unconsecrated"! She doesn't care about a boy's floppy hair and rippling muscles, she's not concerned with who will sit with her in class and whether she can fold a paper aeroplane that will enable her to pass notes, she's not interested in bitching, gossip and rumours, no .... Mary is too busy surviving! She's hacking the heads off the undead with a goddamn scythe! She's just too kick ass for words! I love this crazy chick! 
Basically The Forest of Hands and Teeth is set in the future in a world populated with zombies where Mary lives in a small community cut off from the outside world due to the unfortunate fact that her village happens to be right in the middle of a dense forest over-run with these undead flesh eaters. Mary is desperate to see the ocean, which her mother told her stories of from before this whole debacle began, handed down through the generations. There is a breach in the fence securing the village and Mary and a group of her friends find themselves fighting to survive and reach safety when everything and everyone they love is destroyed. 
The whole thing is intense. One minute I was reading about Mary quietly minding her own business, doing laundry in the stream (as you do ...), the next minute I'm reading about her mother being infected and having to be cast out into the forest by her ankle to live out her days roaming through the trees hungering for human flesh! This rapid pace is maintained throughout the story which I love, I can't stand books that flicker on and on with barely a spark to keep my eyes open. I'll be honest, there is a rather slow section in the middle but actually, I needed some time to catch my breath anyway. 
There is, of course a love triangle. Mary is in love with Travis, but Travis has promised to marry Cas because Harry, Travis' brother is in love with and wants to marry Mary. Get it? The great thing about it though is that this is not the standard YA load of bull love triangle where no-one actually knows anything about the other person beyond the fact that they are smokin' hot with black eyes like rain (barf) ... No, Mary actually knows these boys, has been friends with them their entire lives and grew up beside them. She has made an informed choice about the fact that she loves Travis and does not base her entire infatuation with him on the way he looks in skinny jeans. I adored the fact that Mary has hopes, dreams and aspirations beyond having a boyfriend, being in lurve and getting married. She wants desperately to experience the outside world beyond her sheltered village where everyone is educated to be god fearing, compliant citizens and to expect no more than to marry, have children and maintain the population. Mary wants more than this. She believes, when no-one else does, that there is more to life. She's very strong willed, determined and ruthless in pursuit of her dreams, she's certainly no cardboard cutout as so many other YA heroines are.  What really made me admire Mary was during a portion of the book when she was trapped with only Travis and her dog in a house surrounded my zombies and she was confronted with the reality of spending a lifetime with him. She discovers that this is not enough for her. She needs more than to be a wife. She needs things that Travis cannot give her, she needs to realise her dream of seeing the ocean. I just thought to myself at this point, you go girl! Isn't this a more healthy message to send to young girls? Don't settle for living in the shadow of a man - develop your own passions, ambitions and drives and reach for the stars ( or the sea ....) however impossible that dream may appear. 
Don't be fooled by my description above into thinking that this is in anyway an uplifting, heartwarming tale of daring escape and dreams-come-true ... Oh no, no my friends. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is brutal! It will not leave you with a fuzzy warm glow in your heart! It's gory, nerve racking and little bit insane. I usually hate anything about zombies, be it movie or book (I can't help but think, what if it came true?) but this book just sucked me right in so much to the action and the characters that I loved it despite my unease at the descriptions of undead broken fingers and milky eyes (eek!). I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that there was no happy ending, it just goes to show that not everything is sunshine and rainbows, there are times where everything turns out shit and unfortunately that's real life for you. This aspect again sets The Forest of Hands and Teeth apart from other YA fiction of similar genres. Mary does not find her Prince Charming. She does not skip off into the sunset with perfectly straight white teeth gleaming as she grins about how amazing her shiny blonde hair looks in this light. No. She emerges from the forest battered, bruised and bloody asking some pretty inane questions (that's our crazy Mary!) having just lost everyone and everything she ever held dear. But she achieves her goal. Just goes to show that sometimes we have to sacrifice everything to realise our dreams.