Title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan
Genre: post-apocalyptic zombie fiction
Days to read: one
Synopsis and Impressions:
Imagine a zombie apocalypse happened. And people just weren’t careful enough in barricading themselves and saving their butts from being bitten (too busy throwing their delicious bodies into the mindless swarm whilst urging their loved ones to save themselves….) and infecting and thus fuelling the continuation of said apocalypse. Long after all the wisdom of gun and ammo production has been forgotten, and people are reduced to using sticks with pointy ends (and lots of handy axes) to fend off the shambling horde. And a very long time after the origin and making of chain-link fences has fallen into myth and legend.
And not only can they mutate to become faster at chasing and biting, the zombies in this book can hibernate so as to extend their living undeadness for a good while longer after the recommended expiration date so waiting it out is not the best option.
Such is Mary’s world. People stay within the safe perimeter of their gated settlement, doing farming and hanging out with friends and family and falling in love and getting hurt the normal ways one gets hurts (ie. falling off stout buildings and getting the occasional fractured limb). It’s a pretty decent life considering all the time they’re doing these mundane things their zombie neighbours are piling up outside and vandalizing their fences with all that gnawing and repetitive banging of withering limbs against it.
As the reanimated corpses salivate and claw at the barriers surrounding her, Mary is doing her laundry and holding hands with a nice boy who she only regards as a friend and trying to figure out if she should try to like him back or if she should try flirting with his brother for whom she has the hugest crush on. Typical teenager-y drama-stuff. Then the sirens wail and people start panicking and climbing up into treehouses and prematurely pulling up ladders and being douchebag survivalists (zombies can’t climb for Pete’s sake! Otherwise the fence would not stop them…). That’s when Mary remembers – how can she be so irresponsible! – she was supposed to give her Mother moral support during zombie visiting hours. Sure enough, her Mother’s gotten into trouble and now has the option of either killing herself prematurely before the zombie infection takes hold (she might secure a place on the family plot, then) or, becoming a zombie and someone having to behead her in such a state in the near future. Mother wanting to be with long-lost-to-zombies-Father, decides to do the latter. Her last words to Mary are about going to find the mythical ocean, because, of course, a forest full of shambling, mildly aggressive and very hungry dead things would prevent travels to foreign bodies of water. And also, it has yet to be proven to the forest-folk whether zombies can swim or not. This is only the beginning of Mary’s obsession about oceans.
There’s also a slightly alarming sisterhood of zombologist nuns that like to initiate their newbies to the world of nunnery by telling them about winemaking and then putting them into small enclosures for the purposes of scaring the crap out of them into dedicating their lives to serving God.
Aside from being mildly depressing, the book did bring up some interesting zombie-human dynamics. Mostly people wondering what it would feel like to become a zombie – hoping that somewhere deep inside of their primitivized and damaged brains, they could still recognize the faces of their loved ones? This is partly the reason why Mary’s mother decides to let herself become a zombie. Out of love. Kind of tragic. Also, Mary spends a lot of time looking at old photographs of happy carefree people and morbidly wondering if those very people are now grudgingly waiting for her to move out of their houses and stop wearing their clothes or just give them her brain as rent.
It can be pretty gloomy living in Mary’s as-yet-unzombified head. She’s one dissatisfied and unhappy person. She can’t figure out what her role is in her community and no one seems to understand her restlessness. Surprisingly, she doesn’t want to be a nun, and she doesn’t want to be a good housewife. She labels herself as selfish and she’s not just saying that out of insecurity about herself. She almost always makes the choice that is better for herself and worst for the harmony of the community (according to the sisterhood, anyway). When things take a turn for the worst (zombies are persistent), Mary wants to go to the ocean. And she will go with or without the few people who still care about her. What the heck, Mary? Unless the ocean can decapitate, it will most likely be bringing up bloated, uglier undead (admittedly, watching Pirates of the Caribbeans has made me knowledgeable about this matter, though those were magicked zombies…).
“Mother?” I whisper at daybreak. There was a new moon last night and I spent the hours in the darkness listening to the rustling of dry leaves behind the fence, my mind imagining the worst possible scenarios. Every creak I heard was the fence breaking, every scratching the Unconsecrated finally finding weakness in the metal.
Now the air is gray and moist and I crawl on my hands and knees closer to the pen that holds my mother. She is there, in the middle of the ground and she is so still that for a moment I think she has died and is about to Return. Bile and terror rise in my throat but are trapped. I feel the need to scream but I am utterly silent with my mouth open and teeth bared.
My legs tangle in my skirts and I claw at the ground and am almost to the fence when I hear the Guardian behind me. I look back at him, pleading with him. “She is still alive,” I tell him, because I just know that she is. He looks over his shoulder into the mist and, seeing that we are alone, he nods as if giving me permission and I lace my fingers around the thin rusted metal of the fence, feeling its sharp cold edges bite into my palms.
“The ocean,” my mother mumurs. Sharp as a crack she whips her head around and I see that her eyes are wide and unfocused but lucid. She crawls toward me until our hands are linked together through the fence.
“The ocean, Mary, the ocean!” She is speaking so urgently now, her mouth moving rapidly. I am afraid that the Guardian will think she is crazy and has turned and that he will kill me but I can’t pull my hands back because my mother’s grip is too tight.
“So beautiful, the ocean.” She repeats the words over and over again, her eyes becoming bright with unshed tears. “The water, the waves, the sand, the salt!” She is shaking the fence now and it causes undulations to ripple outward to either side, the metal swaying back and forth. I am amazed that she has this strength; she has been dying for so many hours.
“It consumes me,” she says, her voice only a whisper. She reaches one finger through the wire and strokes my wrist. “My little girl,” she tells me. “Do not forget my little girl.” Tears slip out of her eyes and I hear the Guardian shout behind me and then my mother slumps to the ground, her fingers slipping away from mine.
Rating: 3.5 ways to get someone to die for you whilst chasing an elusive dream
I will still read the second and third books, the second one being The Dead-tossed Waves.