I have watched the excitement build up online over Carrie Ryan’s debut, The Forest of Hands and Teeth and couldn’t help but be swept up in the giddy atmosphere.
I knew the premise of the story, that she started writing it as part of the Nanowrimo challenge back in 2006 and that it was going to be something very different to hit the market – the publishers were taking a big chance with this, which indicated to me that TFOHAT was something very special indeed.
Shelving my own preconceptions, I started reading The Forest of Hands and Teeth the morning after I received my copy. I was immediately struck by the author’s intimate style of writing and the ease with which you are effortlessly drawn into the lives of Mary and her closest friends. The cast remains very small, serving to place you at the heart of the action. You are very much aware of Mary’s thoughts and feelings throughout the novel.
The author excels at revealing the true nature of the main character in intense internal dialogue. We experience Mary’s world deeply and truthfully. The internal dialogue remains engaging which is a tremendous feat – Mary’s voice is strong and unique. Her faith in the stories her mother had told her never wavers – she holds onto the stories of the ocean and the way the world was before the Return. You quickly realise that these stories keep her sane – they are her touchstone in a world ruled by the indomitable will of the Sisterhood, of the constant terror of the Unconsecrated living just on the other side of the fence that keeps the village so secure. Mary is not without her faults – she would be a pretty boring heroine if she was perfect, but she displays courage and honour in a time when life turns its back on her.
I’m not giving anything way by saying that the village is breached by the Unconsecrated – Mary and her friends go on the run, desperate to survive and uncertain of their future. Here the strength of Carrie Ryan’s writing comes to the fore. She explores sensitively how survivors struggle to cope with the trauma of being the ones “that got away”. She highlights the guilt and terror of their situation. Where before the characters could pretend to have a choice in their lives, they now had none – they have to progress along the hidden paths to try and find salvation. And what happens if they do find that salvation, will they be safe and if they are safe, how long will it be before the Unconsecrated find them and they have to run again?
The tour de force in the novel is Mary. A young woman of tremendous spirit, who questions her situation, the life she is forced to lead, always yearning to find out more, to find out what is beyond the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Her relationship with the survivors from her village is in constant flux as she is the one who fights, the one demanding they move on, to find out what happens next. They resent her and they admire her for questioning their age-old belief. They see her as selfish and recalcitrant and probably they are right – but in this situation, in order for them to survive, they need a Mary to push them to their limits.
The novel is an astonishing piece of work. The conclusion happens too quickly – you are so wrapped in their world, that you are reluctant to leave it behind, for all its terror and horror. The love-triangle is woven deftly into the fabric of the story and the characters demand your empathy. I sincerely hope that there is a follow-up novel in the works as Mary is such an amazing character that it would be a shame to not travel with her some more. The world post-apocalyptic world created by the author rings true and again, it needs to be trotted out for another story.
I would highly recommend The Forest of Hands and Teeth as a phenomenal read. It is a novel of tremendous spirit and a great piece of fiction with some good action scenes to keep the adrenalin flowing. It is released in the States in March 2009.
You can find Carrie Ryan’s site at: http://www.carrieryan.com/ .