I'm not all that into zombies. Werewolves and shapeshifters, absolutely. Fairies, sign me up. Vampires? As long as they come in the half-dressed-Eric-from-Trueblood variety. These are monsters with varying levels of heart and conscience and personality. Zombies have no conscience. They're the walking dead. They're gross. And, they're kind of boring.
But the Forest of Hands and Teeth might just have changed my mind on this point. Not about zombies being interesting in and of themselves, but about them being fun and fantastically fun to read about. This book is, essentially, a postapocalyptic zombie romance (not something I'd generally get excited about, but trust me as I rave). The book centers around a teenage girl named Mary and her life in a small village surrounded by ominous woods (think The Village). The woods are overrun with zombies kept out by the Sisterhood, the Guardians, and a circle of fences. Mary has always dreamed of a world beyond the fences, a place where the Unconsecrated don't fill life with fear. So when the fences are breached and Mary's world is shattered, she and the people she loves must fight their way towards that hope.
There are so many things to love about this book. It's got mystery, it's got a love triangle, and it's got the perfect amount of creepy. That, plus the fact that it's incredibly suspenceful and fantastically well paced. I couldn't reach the end of one chapter without itching to jump into the next. This was a stay-up-until-3AM-even-though-I-have-to-work-tomorrow read. There was constant danger and building drama, but the author also leaves room for contemplation. She uses the growing zombie nightmare as a means of exploring the fragility of life, of human connection, the resilience of the spirit in the face of true adversity, and the yearnings and feelings that define the human condition. Even with a horde of dripping, moaning flea bags banging at the door, this book offers tender moments and introspection. Not to mention the fact that it's very well written and that the main character's voice never wavers. I didn't always like Mary, but I always believed her and believed in her.
The zombies weren't lovable (I'm waiting for the author who can achieve that feat), but they were lovably creepy. Ryan turns the woods and the zombies that plague it into a chilling, unknown world that was a pleasure to step into. The book is tagged as YA, but I don't think this is a strictly 'teenage' book at all. This is a book that I think a huge range of readers could happily fall into.