A few weeks back, I blogged about how the romance part of “Dark Romance” often left me cold. My Hollywood based chum, Vanessa immediately suggested that I should check out The Forest of Hands & Teeth by Carrie Ryan, (published by Gollancz in the UK) if I wanted a more enticing offering. I know that theoretically we now have the same publisher, but regardless of this little fact, you should stop what you’re doing and read Forest NOW!
Gloriously combining three YA trends, zombies, dystopia and doomed love, Forest tells the tale of a colony of zombie apocalypse survivors living in a puritanical compound ruled by the powerful Sisterhood and policed by the Guardians. The title refers to the Unconsecrated – the undead beings who test the fences relentlessly in their hunger for human flesh. Neatly, the Z-word isn’t mentioned in the whole book.
My previous article expressed concern over some of the girls in other YA series, particularly a certain Bella Swan. Thankfully, Forest gifts us Mary, a fully rounded character who gives readers a feast of food for thought. Shunned by the fellas, Mary is whisked away to the sisterhood only to develop a serious crush on her best friend’s betrothed, Travis. Much hot and horny, breathy ear whispering follows, with no hesitation from Mary. In contrast to many of her contemporaries, Mary is unapologetic of her teenage urges – her only regret is that she’s doing the dirty on her best mate. Ryan has dared to go where Meyer did not: teenage girls have sexual desires. There, she said it.
However, what makes Mary a truly fascinating character is that her story doesn’t end there. It’s hard to write more about her without spoilering the plot, but her motivations run much deeper than her raging horn for Travis, especially when she realises there might be a world outside the compound. One night she discovers the Sisterhood have been lying to their sheltered community, and the reader is drawn into a mystery and a quest. As the story progresses, Mary is granted something which Bella, Nora, Katniss et al were denied…ambition. I think this is a very positive message for young female readers in particular.
The forest of the title isn’t the only metaphor. The Sisterhood, the Guardians, the village can all be interpreted in various ways – the text can be read with a feminist slant quite easily, but don’t be put off! Forest is more literary than much of the genre, but never alienates the target audience. As the angstometer starts at 11 and is cranked up to about 20 by the end, Forest isn’t always a fun read, but never fails to captivate. Ryan’s prose is beautiful and somewhat sensual, oddly poetic for a novel about flesh-eating hordes.
The Forest of Hands & Teeth made a somewhat bigger splash with US than UK readers, becoming a critical hit and a New York Times bestseller. It spawned two sequels, The Dead-Tossed Waves and The Dark and Hollow Places, released soon. Rumours of a movie are also floating about the Internet, so as I said before, read it now and brag to your mates that you read it before it was passe.