Life is acceptable.
Sure, things aren't great. Mary's father is gone, her mother sits by the gate staring into the Forest of Hands and Teeth waiting for some sign of her husband, and her childhood friend Harry is getting a bit too close. But the Unconsecrated are still safely beyond the gate, and the villagers are surviving. Mary still tells herself the stories of her mother, stories of a time before the Unconsecrated and a neverending ocean.
But then Mary's mother does see her husband -- and gets too close. She is infected in an instant, and condemned to death. By the time Mary's brother Jed gets back, it's too late to say goodbye. Their mother is shoved outside the gate to join the rest of the Unconsecrated.
Life is hard.
Now orphaned, Mary expects to be taken in by her brother Jed and his wife Beth, but Jed stonily tells her that she is to be taken in by the Sisterhood, the religious women who rule the village. Harry doesn't come through on his interrupted proposal, and, with nowhere else to go, Mary is forced into the Sisterhood, where her world starts to turn upside down.
First of all, Travis, Harry's brother, is injured and taken to the Cathedral to be looked after. Mary has always been in love with him, and she now finds it harder than ever to give up on him (he's engaged to Cass, Mary's best friend) when she sees him every night.
And, to top it all off, Mary discovers the impossible: a stranger has come from outside the fence. Does this mean that they are not the last survivors of humanity? That there is an end to the Unconsecrated and the Forest of Hands and Teeth? That her mother's stories weren't just nonsense, but true? Is there really an ocean out there, as she's always dreamed?
Life is unacceptable.
Mary begins to unwind the lies and mysteries surrounding the Sisterhood and the limping little village. But before she can get very far, the unthinkable happens: the gates are breached, and the Unconsecrated flood the village. Mary only barely survives along with Harry, Travis, Jed, Beth, Cass, a little boy named Jacob, and Mary's dog Argos. The group escape the village and start along one of the many fenced paths leading into the Forest. Mary is confident that there is something waiting for them, something better. Something free. The ocean.
I had mixed feelings about The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I've also been rather oblivious about it. When it first came out, I declared it uninteresting and so didn't put it very high on my to-read list. And then when I finally picked it up the other day, I realized it was about zombies. ILOVEZOMBIES. Buuuut then I saw some of the tags it had on various book websites: die-heroine-die, stupid-love-triangle... you get the picture. My excitement faded.
Ten pages in: dull dull dull dull Mary is such a stupid whinypants.
Ten - thirty pages in: hey, this is pretty good.
Thirty - one hundred pages in: ugh, Mary.
One hundred - end of book: AAAAAAAAAAAGH.
This is one of those books with terrible chars. They're all stupid in their own special way, and I can't help but wonder if they all had some actual mental problems. But then again, seeing as how they live in a post-apocalyptic zombie world, I'll cut them some slack. I doubt I'd have all my lightbulbs screwed in just right if I were in their situation.
But this is also one of those books that is just so tragic and well-written and realistic that it somehow ends up beautiful in my head. I closed the book with a sense of awe and shock, completely exhausted from the trip. Talk about a climax done zombie-style. I even sort of ended up liking Mary towards the end. She's still not exactly smart, but I can see her being awesome in a kind of Resident Evil-one-woman-against-the-zombie-horde way.
This review reminding you of another book? Life As We Knew It, for example? Yeah, the books are ridiculously similar. They both follow the basic plot of an apocalypse with a character who is incredibly dull and yet resourceful. None of the main chars are all that interesting (though "Forest" had the advantage of a dog; I'll put you out of your misery and give you a small spoiler: Argos survives the entire book), but the writing is spectacular, and for the last half of the book, it's impossible to stop reading. Both books are the first in a series, and both sequels are about different characters. Both main characters are female with names beginning with M. If Carrie Ryan and Susan Beth Pfeffer aren't already friends, they should definitely get together and see what other tragedies they can come up with. Can you imagine what would happen if they wrote a book together?
"Forest" definitely isn't for everyone. I don't expect it to become the next great classic or anything, but I still encourage you to give it a try, as long as you aren't too incensed by stupid main chars or too sensitive to mental and physical pain. Yikesies.
You might like this if you: like Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer; like apocalypse/futuristic stories; love zombies and therefore must read/see/listen to anything related to zombies; enjoy amazing, unique writing styles (if you can call it unique... let's just say Pfeffer and Ryan are the only two with it); or if you feel like your life is not enough and that there's something else waiting for you beyond a deadly forest. Perhaps this book can give you examples of the does and don'ts (DO practice archery. DON'T be indecisive about your one true love).