Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Much of the blogosphere is familiar with this book already, but I'm just getting to it. After reviews by the likes of Heather F. and Stephanie I couldn't help myself.

I can't say I was terribly enticed by the idea of zombies--they're sooo five minutes ago--but between the interesting concept and the cool title, I took the plunge.

Quick blurb: Mary lives in a secluded society surrounded by fences. The fences serve a very important purpose: to keep the Unconsecrated (zombies) at bay. Early in the book Mary loses her mother when she wanders too close to the fence looking for Mary's thought-to-be-dead father. Her mother soon dies and Returns as an Unconsecrated and is pushed into the Forest to exist with the others. Mary finds herself alone amidst the Sisters--nuns who guard the secrets and history of the society in which Mary lives. She also finds herself in a bit of a marital pickle. She's marrying age, but she loves Travis and is socially bound to his brother, Harry. Hello, love triangle!

The book started out with a bang. I was immediately sucked in by the creepy atmosphere and the sense of oppression that comes through the writing. I can't imagine being locked in by fences and surrounded by "the enemy" all the time. Even though the Unconsecrated are slow, the sheer numbers of them are a constant threat to the village as they consistently pressure the fences and threaten to overtake the residents. It's a pretty darn bothersome concept, actually.

Toward the middle of the book, as the love triangle became an increasing problem for Mary, I got a little bored. Mary seems a pretty solid character. She knows her mind (most of the time), and has some very definite dreams about escaping her community to see what lies beyond the Forest. She's heard stories of the ocean all her life and wants nothing more than to reach it. That said, she still gets bogged down in a mental battle between Travis and Harry. Who should she trust? Who loves her? Who does she want to be with, etc.

I felt a similar sense of apathy about the "love triangle" in The Hunger Games. When I see people going on about Team Peeta or Team Gale, I tend to fall on a third team: Team Katniss! I can see Katniss being independent of both these guys. Same thing with Mary. I was more interested in her and the societal secrets around her than her thin love life.

There were some specific scenes in the book that I found pretty heavy. An Unconsecrated baby rocking in her cradle for eternity, for instance. Somehow the book seemed more adult than a YA novel at times, and maybe one of the reasons I didn't love the love triangle is because it reminded me that the book had more to offer than a love story. There were some pretty serious critiques of a society based on sameness and an overarching sense of safety (a la The Giver). If I taught a college class with older books, I would probably throw this novel in for good measure and explore some of those deeper issues.

I see The Dead-Tossed Waves in my future, but I haven't decided if I'll pick it up now or get a little space from this book first. In the meantime, visit Carrie Ryan's website.

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