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#34 The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Mary lives in the village, a simple place ruled by the Sisterhood, protected by the Guardians, and surrounded by a metal fence to keep out the unconsecrated. Mary has already lost one parent to the unconsecrated, and when her mother is taken too, she is forced to take refuge with the Sisterhood, an order of secretive nun-like religious figureheads. Then, the Sisterhood receives two visitors: Travis, the boy that Mary loves, and a strange girl named Gabrielle that Mary has never seen before. Could she be from another village? Is there more beyond the fences then the forest of hands and teeth?

I picked up The Forest of Hands and Teeth with the highest of expectations. At first glance, it appears to be the perfect book for me, a young adult dystopia with zombies? Count me in! The setting that it takes place in is fascinating, and I think logically represents a society where people’s main focus is survival. The intensely dark storyline is filled with action, romance, and all of the things I typically look for in a young adult book.

So why did I struggle to connect with the story? The biggest reason was my dislike of the protagonist’s voice. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is written in the first person, and much of the book is spent inside Mary’s head as she reflects on the world around her. I didn’t like the author’s habit of writing a paragraph or two about a topic, and then following it with a single sentence paragraph that summarizes what you just read, such as how the people know nothing about life outside the village beyond the forest, or the level of control the Sisterhood has. It often feels as if the author is saying “oh you know what I’ve been saying in a roundabout way for a paragraph? Here’s what I really mean in case you didn’t get it.” This is a little insulting to the reader’s intelligence (and yes I’m aware it was written for a young adult audience), and the frequency that it happens had me rolling my eyes. It also contributes to the air of melodrama that occasionally permeates the story.

Since we spend so much time in Mary’s head, many of the minor characters don‘t seem to get the development they deserve. The most obvious example of this is in the character of Travis. We know from the beginning that Mary really cares about Travis, and she grows to love him quite intensely. I could not help but wonder why, as I never really felt I got a handle on who he was. This is quite frustrating as the romantic storyline is actually a rather important one.

Most people who have picked up this book seem to love it a lot, and there are many things I enjoy about it. The setting is really well done, and the story can be quite exciting at times, especially near the end. Unfortunately, my dislike of Mary’s voice and my issues with the characterization ultimately held me back from fully enjoying the book. I’m not saying that it’s necessarily a bad book. It was okay, but despite all of the unresolved plotlines at the end, I don’t think that I will be reading the sequel The Dead Tossed Waves.

Rating: three stars
Length: 310 pages
Source: paperbackswap
Challenge: This book is part of the 2010 Young Adult Reading Challenge
Similar books: The dark dystopia storyline reminded me of The Hunger Games (my review) and Catching Fire (my review) both by Suzanne Collins. The romance reminded me of The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer.
Other books I've read by this author: This is my first

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