The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Opening line: ‘My mother used to tell me about the ocean.’

Nestled deep in the forest is a village, isolated from the rest of the world, surrounded by the Forest of Hands and Teeth. The village is fenced in: the fences keep the villagers safe, the fences keep out the Unconsecrated. Life in the village is fragile; every member of the community has their role to play, including Mary. After losing one parent to the Unconsecrated, Mary risks losing another and, when the fences are breached, her whole world. What world lies beyond the fences? Can life exist in the Forest of Hands and Teeth? Is there such a thing as the ocean?

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan is the first book of trilogy about our world sometime in the future, when a pandemic swept across countries and continents, forcing humans to seek refuge in isolated places and build walls to separate themselves from the Infected. Mary has grown up hearing that her village is the last on earth, they the last people; she has also grown up listening to her mother’s stories, passed down through the generations, of the world how it existed before the Return. She dreams of leaving the village and finding a new world beyond the forest, of finding the ocean. An Outsider, free from infection; a brother’s betrayal; the breach of the fences all contribute to Mary’s flight from the village into the Forest of Hands and Teeth, where she must survive, pressing onward even with the remnants of broken dreams.

A friend recommended this book to me after I finished the Chaos Walking trilogy and wanted another YA dystopian trilogy to ready, and I’m glad she did (thanks Amber!). YA dystopian is a popular genre at present, so it seems, which is good because I’m definitely a fan. Even being in a popular genre, however, The Forest of  Hands and Teeth feels fresh and unique. The writing is honest. Though the Unconsecrated are frightening, they are also to be pitied. This novel demonstrates the resilience of the human spirit in adversity, and also, how sometimes, it can just be too much. It is also one of the few novels I have read that deals with one’s loss of faith in God so sincerely. As I said, this Ryan’s writing is honest.

At times The Forest of Hands and Teeth reminded me of M. Night Shyamalaman’s film The Village and of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. If you liked either of these, and if you like YA and/or dystopian, you might also like this novel. I did, and I will keep an eye out for the next book in the trilogy.

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