Zombie apocalypse came and went, but generations later, there is still a group of survivors left – not that zombies are gone, though. Mary is a teenager growing up behind well-guarded fences in the middle of Forest of Hands and Teeth. Her village, run by the Sisterhood, is in constant danger of being overwhelmed, but Mary has other problems: the boy she fancies decided to marry her best friend and her mother just got bitten by one of the Unconsecrated.
When I first heard about The Forest of Hands and Teeth, I was all 'Yay, another post-apocalyptic book!' and was eager to see how this particular zombie apocalypse turned out. The beginning was not what I expected, though - the setting is interesting, but the world of Forest of Hands and Teeth only works if you don't think about it too much. The zombies (or the Unconsecrated, as Mary calls them) are presented as if they were an unstoppable force of nature, even though it's not clear where they all even came from, seeing how it's been generations since the original outbreak, and they seem to be able to swarm even the most prepared villages. People from Mary's village also seem to have a habit of wandering too near the fences, there seems to be an unlimited amount of fence material and the more I read about how the village works, the more similar everything seemed to The Village. Luckily, this village is not the main focus of the book, but instead only provides a background for the protagonist's various problems and dilemmas.
Mary is a typical teenager – stubborn, a bit naïve and capricious. This was why I had a hard time deciding whether Forest of Hands and Teeth is a YA book or not, because she, despite her age, is also a very non-typical YA character, mostly because not only she's far from perfect, I also find her very hard to empathise with. She rarely speaks her mind and abides by the norms of the society she's trapped in, even though she despises them; any rule-breaking she does seems coincidental. She is quick to notice other people's failings, slow to realise her own and most of the time completely passive. Even though she mentions all kinds of sacrifices she's willing to make, those, too, would require only minimal participation from her (for example, agreeing to a 'scandalous' proposal, but not voicing it). I actually found all that pretty refreshing – I'm used to YA protagonists who are rebellious, active, and all in all the person most teenage readers would love to be. I can't imagine that many teenagers would want to be Mary, but she does strike me as a pretty realistic character.
The other Mary's personality trait that I found atypical was her inability to be satisfied with anything that doesn't go according to her various daydreams. She is unhappy with a boy who fell in love with her because he is not 'the one', and never gives him a chance to prove himself; when she finally gets to be with the boy she supposedly loves, she quickly gets bored and starts longing to fulfill her long-time wish to see the ocean. Where a more typical YA character would realise (probably with a little help from a good friend) that they've been too selfish ans try to make amends, Mary chooses her wish over everyone she knows and leaves them to their own devices and unknown fate.
That's actually what made the book for me and what I liked most about it. Mary is stubborn, unreasonable and selfish, but not annoying; the reader may not agree with her decisions, but has to go along with them. True, the setting (and the zombies) is there only to provide a background and other characters are not nearly as lifelike as Mary - mostly, they're only archetypes (the best friend who grows distant, the older brother who loves her sister despite a grudge, the two love interests who (of course) both fall in love with her, the strict teacher …) for Mary to interact with, but Mary herself is a very nicely written, realistic character; the journey to her realisation of what she really wants is what makes this book well worth reading. I can't wait to see what the sequel (The Dead-Tossed Waves) will bring.
Yet another skipped week. Study time = crazy time.
Sunday, August 29, 2010