What it is like to live in a world where humans can be infected by a virus more horrifying and more virulent than the plague, the 1918 flu, or HIV? Just one bite from the ever-hungry Unconsecrated, and the victim will arise after death to walk the Forest of Hands and Teeth, searching for living flesh and blood. The only path to utter finality is to be beheaded.
Mary lives in such a world in a small village, surrounded by the forest, ruled by the Sisterhood, and protected by the fences. Although Mary's mother told her fanciful stories of the ocean and of tall buildings, the girl knows her life holds only one of three futures: get married, live under the protection of her family, or join the Sisterhood.
The day her mother strays too close to the fences that keep out the walking dead and becomes infected, is the day that Mary's life is set. By the time her mother dies and then rises to join the Unconsecrated, Mary has missed the chance for a husband and her brother has turned her out of her family home. Nothing is left but to enter the Sisterhood and surrender her free will to the sisters.
Mary, however, finds it difficult to submit, and the more she learns about the Sisterhood and the more she explores the cathedral, the more she questions what she is told to believe. Before Mary can reconcile her personal beliefs and dreams with the order's doctrines, she stumbles upon a secret that reveals a fundamental truth about the world.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth is more than a simple zombie story. Although the basic plot may not offer many surprises, the novel combines interesting characters and good action with larger philosophical questions. Admittedly, the book is not going to change your life, but it is ultimately a story about choices:
The only true thing that separates the living from the Unconsecrated is choice, free will. (p. 9)Mary stands out because she seeks those choices, questions those choices, and then consciously and purposefully makes her choices. She is not about blind faith; she's not fatalistic. She holds on to hope and is not afraid to take a chance. Would you have the strength and courage to follow your dreams no matter what the cost?
The audiobook was brilliantly read by Vane Millon. Millon's work on this book is simply outstanding and is not to be missed. This is what narration is all about: storytelling rather than dramatization. I am sure that my rating of the novel is heavily influenced by the audio production.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth is the first of a trilogy. According to Carrie Ryan's website, the second book, The Dead-Tossed Waves, is due in the spring of 2010 and the final book a year later.
Published by Random House Children's Books, 2009
Challenges: What's in a Name, Support Your Library, 100+, 999