The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

A promising lead just faded into a sleepy, muddy story for me.

After hearing so many promising things about the YA horror story The Forest of Hands and Teeth, I was so excited to get my hands on a copy. And let me tell you, the first few chapters were seriously scary—and so riveting, in fact, that I had a hard time putting the book down at all. But I don’t know if it’s because I’ve become so spoiled on my Ellen Datlow collections of pretty much perfect horror and fantasy, or if I’m just the (getting) old curmudgeon harsh critic my best friend says I am, but I just lost interest in the middle of the book.

The story starts out like Zombieland meets The Village, which is most excellent, right? It’s like zombies in puritan times. And at the beginning, it’s pretty awesome. But then our heroine’s life is suddenly out of whack when her mom becomes a zombie, her father’s already one, and her brother disowns her. Throw in two very lackluster love interests that you never give a damn about, a weird religious caste system inexplicably run by women in a culture that is still run by male heads of household (um, what?), and a bleak outlook without meaning (and constant self-absorption and long, boring drawn-out passages), and you’ve got this novel.

I don’t mean to be harsh; I really don’t. I love novels like The Road and I Am Legend, which do justice to this scenario much more proficiently. And I love the idea of a heroine in charge instead of a lead male, an uncommon theme in such stories. Much of author Carrie Ryan’s story is good in terms of ideas; they obviously worked for many people as the book is a New York Times bestseller.

It just didn’t work well for me. I would have preferred a less bleak story overall or ending, a protagonist I liked a bit better, and more sensible scenes. The complete lack of romance where it was obviously meant to have been and characters to really root for are probably what made me dislike it most. A little bit of humor could have helped, too. The protagonist is also constantly being slapped by people, which I did not like at all. The whole violence against women as a romantic theme should have died with Gone with the Wind rather than been rejuvenated with Twilight.

Ryan’s writing, however, is quite nice; I liked how she drew out tension, something that many writers do have trouble with. I noted that on her website, she’s listed in many short story compilations and I plan on checking them out; I am betting that in that type of story, she will be very successful. As far as this series, however, I don’t think I’ll be reading the sequels, which sound just as bleak. I do think that this book would work well adapted as a film, though, and would be willing to watch it. I wouldn’t say the same for many books, but in this case I do think visual elements would help speed the story along and truly make it come alive.