Thursday, July 1, 2010

Review: Carrie Ryan, The Forest of Hands and Teeth

***Contains some vague spoilers***

Page count: 336
Publisher: Random House: Delacorte
Pub date: March 10, 2009

I'm just gonna cut to the chase here: I was pretty disappointed by this book. Basically the only thing it had going for it was the action. It was definitely a very suspenseful read. But was it original? No. Was it well written? No. Were the characters well developed? No. Were they at least likable? Not really.

The zombie idea, like the vampire one, has been done a zillion times before. That's not to say there's no room for further creativity and originality in the genre (obviously, or people wouldn't be devouring so many of these books!)...but Carrie Ryan doesn't manage that here. This whole concept of a futuristic world where humans are on the verge of extinction, and society is run by a small, mysterious group of religious or political extremists who keep hidden from everyone the true history of How Things Got to Be So Effed Up, has been done a hundred times before, and much more skillfully, too (see Brave New World, The Handmaiden's Tale, Fahrenheit 451, The Giver, or The Hunger Games, to name a few). If you're going to succeed in this overpopulated genre, something needs to stand out; there need to be some redeeming qualities.

For example, you could have a really strong, vivid protagonist, someone who has flaws, but struggles convincingly to overcome them, to do the right thing...someone who is both complex and likable (i.e. Katniss). Mary, heroine of The Forest of Hands and Teeth, is neither complex nor likable, although she is definitely flawed. For one thing, she's extremely selfish. From the first page to the last, she consistently puts her own desires and whims before everything else, even when it leads to the heartbreak, death, and zombie-hood of her closest friends and family. Also, she's a total flake. The only thing constant about her is her selfishness. Throughout the book, she keeps changing her mind on these life-altering issues: "I'm going to marry Harry and live comfortably. Actually, I'm joining the sisterhood. No, I can't, I love Travis! Wait, Travis is engaged to my best friend, I can't do this! Yes, I can, I have to! Slash...I kind of miss Harry! Wait, there has to be more to life than romance, I want to see the ocean!" There's really no apparent reason why she keeps changing her mind...these fluctuations are not grounded in anything; they show no evolution of character. They are basically just whims...something to keep us turning the pages, I guess.

The secondary characters were also pretty flat. The love triangle between Mary, Harry (her betrothed), and Travis (Harry's brother) left me cold. The brothers do not seem like separate individuals; they have the exact same voice and seem to basically cherish the same things (Mary). As far as I could tell, the only real distinction between the brothers is that Harry apparently has white, fleshy hands, whereas Travis's hands are sexy and calloused. Clearly, then, Travis is the one for her!

As for the writing...the story is told from Mary's perspective in the present tense. I've noticed that first person, present tense POV's often come off as a little pretentious if the author isn't careful...the writing has a tendency to take itself too seriously. I guess the idea is that if one writes in the present tense, the urgency of it all--the mystique!--will persuade the reader that what's being said is really, vitally important, even if there's actually nothing there. Ryan writes in short, choppy, angst-ridden, annoyingly redundant prose that is littered with fragments. Here's an exaggerated example (of my own rendering, *not* by Carrie Ryan) of a typical inner monologue by Mary:

Sitting there beside Travis, I feel frightened. Scared. Scared for Travis. Scared for me. Scared that I'll never touch his calloused, manly hands again. Scared of the passion building up within me. The fire of it. Then, suddenly, an image of Harry pops into my mind. Harry, laughing, like when we were kids. Harry holding my hand. Harry holding my hand tightly. Leading me through the fields. I feel a warm comfort. A feeling of safety. Of security. Maybe Harry is the one for me? But then, I remember my mother, and the stories of the ocean. The ocean! How it was so endless. How it didn't end. So vast. So big and full of water! Travis is bleeding to death on the bed beside me. Blood running everywhere. Real bloody. But I know what I have to do. The journey I have to take. Goodbye Travis. Goodbye Harry. HELLO, OCEAN!

Ok, I realize this has been a pretty scathing review so far, perhaps more so than I originally intended when I began. So I will briefly talk about some of the things I liked. Despite my irritation with the unoriginality, the flat characters, and the pretentious writing style, the book really was extremely suspenseful, even scary at times (as zombie novels tend to be). I read most of it in one sitting because I had to find out what happened. One other positive feature was the darkness of it. The mood throughout was extremely grim, and that does take some skill.

2.5 stars

You might prefer:
Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games
Scott Westerfeld, Uglies
Lois Lowry, The Giver

1 comment:

  1. I just had to keep reading too! Thanks for the comment on my review, you actually said some of the things I was trying to better.