Friday, September 19, 2014

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth
by Carrie Ryan

(Edited) Publisher's Blurb:
In Mary's world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. Her world is thrown into chaos, and she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?

My Reaction:
It was alright.  The book was very readable, as evidenced by the fact that I flew through it in a few days (which is fast for me, because these days, I don't often like to sit and read for hours at a time).  I just didn't really like it.  The protagonist lost me somewhere along the way, and at that point, I stopped caring what happened to her.

I originally thought that I might try to read the second book in the trilogy, at some point, in the hope of finding more resolution for some of the remaining characters-- but since it looks like the protagonist of the second book is a totally different character, I doubt it's worth the effort.  I feel like the return on my investment of time in the characters in this first book didn't reach my expectations, so it's difficult to jump into the next one with the same level of enthusiasm.

Complaints aside, it was a decent read.  I'd recommend it to die-hard fans of YA (emphasis on the A) fiction with a taste for zombies and bittersweet romance. 

Particulars (with SPOILERS):
--  As always, it's interesting to see what the characters in a given zombie novel call the zombies (since it's rarely "zombies").  This time, we have "the Unconsecrated" who inhabit "the Forest of Hands and Teeth" (thus the title).  Toward the end of the book, someone refers to them as "Mudo", which apparently is Spanish for "speechless" (or mute).

--  The story starts off promisingly enough, though I'm not crazy about the present tense.  At least the setting is interesting-- a village that believes itself to be the last human settlement in the world.  On the other hand, I was less than thrilled that the village is run by "the Sisterhood".  A handful of all-powerful, possibly cray-cray religious folks bossing everybody around.  Now, that's original.

--  Have you seen M. Night Shyamalan's The Village?  Prepare for flashbacks.

--  "I know that in my life there have been breaches but I also know that I am very good at blocking out the memories that serve me no purpose."

--  "Who we are and why we are here has been lost to history, lost because our ancestors were too busy trying to survive to remember and pass on what they knew.  What little remnants we once had-- like my mother's picture of my many-greats-grandmother standing in the ocean-- were destroyed in the fire when I was a child.  We know of nothing beyond our village except the Forest, and nothing beyond the Forest at all."

Now, that's extremely convenient for this type of story, and I suppose it's possible, but I never cease to find it very unlikely.  Unless the first generation or two of survivors were totally devoid of interest in personal history, there must be at least oral traditions passed down... And I guess there are, in this story.  (All those stories that become Mary's obsession.)  Still, I persist in thinking that more history would exist.  Survival would come first, yes, but there would be time to tell the children and grandchildren about the past-- and in a place like this, where everyone can read and write, someone would probably have written down some things.

--  Early in the book, I sympathize with Mary's difficult (and melodramatic) situation.  Father and mother recently (un)dead... Cast off by her only sibling...  Ignored by the boy she'd planned to marry (in the absence of a better offer)... Homeless and left with no real option but to make a lifelong commitment to a religious group in which she feels no interest.  I don't blame her for snatching at every chance for happiness-- every stolen moment with Travis.  But at some point that changes, and I lose sympathy for her.  And by the time she finally has Travis, only to realize that he's "not enough", I'm frustrated and nearly lose all interest in what happens to her, from that point on.  ...I'm not saying that such paradoxes and confusions don't happen in real life.  There's plenty of waste and misunderstanding, but that doesn't mean I enjoy reading about it. 

--  In its relatively lighter moments, this book reminds me of The Witch of Blackbird Pond with zombies and more desperation.

--  Ah, the classic love triangle-- or love trapezoid?  Meh.  All the swapping (or supposed swapping) of affections is a bit too convenient.  Also, how do we go from "woe is me, nobody loves Mary" to "everybody loves Mary, nobody loves Cass"?  If Harry has always loved Mary-- in his way-- why does he not speak for her after her mother dies?  (Did I miss/forget an explanation?)  He does eventually-- but why not right away?  It's strange.

--  I was kind of hoping that Cass would end up with Jed (and their adopted son, Jacob) and Mary would eventually realize that she loved poor old Harry (after he proved himself to her in some way, if only by sticking with her through adversity).  But no, that would've been too easy.  Mary had to be obsessed with the ocean instead.  *sigh*  (What can I say?  I'm a terribly boring person who likes happy endings.)

--  While they wait outside the first village, after the breach, someone (Cass or Mary?) says/thinks, "Everyone we have ever known, the only place we have ever been, every possession: gone."  ...But how is that possible?  Many were on platforms.  Shouldn't most of those people still be alive?

--  Whoever was in charge of the safety platform system didn't do much of a job!  Sounds like there may not have been sufficient room-- and then there's the whole issue of people pulling up the ladders too soon, leaving neighbors behind to die.  Some of that would happen, I'm sure, but this seems excessive, what with all their so-called planning and drilling.

--  We learn that the children of the village are trained in the use of weapons, but it doesn't seem like many of the villagers knew how to defend themselves.  Harry can barely aim an arrow.  All those villagers should have had weapons in their homes-- or at least on the platforms-- and begun killing the Unconsecrated at once.

For that matter, it doesn't seem like the village's defense team was working hard enough at killing the zombies around the fence.  Ok, it's an endless job, but good grief!  You make an effort.  That's a problem I had throughout this book.  It felt like the author saw potential "issues" with the world she'd built and tried to explain why this or that was as it was-- the lack of knowledge of their own history, for instance-- but the explanations just didn't satisfy me.  Maybe this is more a problem with me than with the book.  

--  A flawed protagonist is supposed to be a good thing, but Mary is so frustrating!  She's downright obnoxious, at times.  (Bluntly announcing that Beth is dying, for instance, instead of finding a humane way to address the problem.) Then there are the times when she's just borderline psychotic.  (Swaddling and holding a zombie baby.  Rolling around in the mud and screaming at the zombies.  Blathering on and on and ON about the ocean.) 

--  There is a lot of chin-grabbing in this book.  It's kind of funny after a while.

--  While they're in Village XIV, why don't they at least try to kill off the zombies?  (They have tons of weapons, including bows and arrows.  And don't tell me there are too many zombies for it to make a difference.  Good grief, people!  One dead zombie is one zombie less to eat your brains!  Come on!  It's worth a try!)  Why don't they at least try to figure out a way to get everyone in the same place (and then a way to leave the village, if necessary) before it's so urgent that there's no choice but to act immediately?  Why don't they fortify the door with furniture or something?  Oh my gosh!  It's just so, so, SO annoying.  (These characters are too passive to survive the zombocalypse.)

--  When Travis is dead, Mary "whimpers" that she loooooved him.  "He was everything.  Why couldn't I see that he was everything?"  ARGHLGRRHGLE!!! *sigh*

--  How are these fenced paths still clear enough for them to easily walk?  Most of them have not been "kept up" by people for years and years, right?  Maybe in some places it would be fine and passable for generations.  Other places, I think it wouldn't be so simple.  There would be significant brush in the way, if nothing else.

--  "I wonder for a moment what my life would have been like if I had never held Harry's hand under the water that day.  If I had finished the laundry on time, joined my mother on the hill while she looked for my father.  Kept her from straying too close to the fences and getting infected.  I never would have joined the Sisters, I never would have fallen in love with Travis or met Gabrielle.  I never would have learned their secrets and pined for a life outside the fences.  I would have married Harry; our children would have grown up knowing Cass and Travis' children, Jed and Beth's."

...Well, not really.  Gabrielle still would've come.  The Sisters probably would still have sent her out to the zombies, and so the breach still would've happened.  If we're supposed to believe that everyone in the village confines is died, then Mary and her pals all would've died, too.  So, no.  No happily ever after that way, either.

--  Mary considers that if she'd gone with Harry, she "could have been content.  Maybe even happy.  But fulfilled?"  Is Mary supposed to be some sort of post-apocalyptic feminist heroine, seeking some mythical, probably non-existent "fulfillment"?  I'm not a fan.  I mean, don't get me wrong-- I think women have as much right as men to choose their lot in life.  It's just... How will finding the ocean "fulfill" Mary more than building a "content", "even happy", normal life with Harry?  (Well, as normal as it can be when he's the brother of her now-dead lover-boy... So, not very normal.)  Anyway, it's just... utterly annoying that Mary's driving passion throughout the entire book-- oh, except for that part when all she wants is Travis, which ends as soon as she has him-- is THE OCEAN.  What does she plan to do when she gets there?  No clue.  But she has to see it.  And it can't wait until her companions are safely settled somewhere, or something.  Nope.  She's gonna see that darn ocean, no matter what happens to her brother, her best friend from childhood, and the boy who has loved her forever.  *eyeroll*  What a wonderful, strong person. 

--  So is Jed dead?  I guess so?

--  "For a while I let the water push and pull me, lift me, hold me as I fall.  I watch the sky, the clouds, the sun, the birds darting overhead.  I wait for peace and happiness but can only think of Travis and Harry and Cass and Jacob.  About how I have lost everything but this place.  I try to think about Jed, shame holding me back from remembering how he came after me.  How he died saving me.  But a part of me also thinks he could be proud that I made it, that I survived.  That he knew what he was doing when he stormed into that Forest after me."  ...Well, it's alright, then.

--  So.  Mary goes swimming in water that is soon becoming littered with chopped up zombies.  (Yuck.)  And then she goes back to the lighthouse home of the new guy (unknown name and age).  ...Hm.  Well, it was certainly worth the journey!  ;oP

-- And with that... blah.