by Savannah J. Foley
My coping mechanism for fear is to understand the being or cause behind the fear. We cannot hate that which we understand, right? In a weird sort of Stockholm Syndrome, I transform my fear of monsters into an admiration for them, thus losing the fear. The logic here is that if you’re fangirling over something you won’t be afraid of it. I’ve successfully used this method with the Alien, Predator, Pennywise the Clown, Baba Yaga, vampires, witches, ghosts, Bigfoot, etc. But there’s one monster I can never get the hang of, and as such they terrify me more than any others: zombies.
My fear of them has led me to seek out zombie fiction and art in an effort to understand them and move to a more fangirl state of mind. However, there’s not much you can use to humanize zombies. Their very nature leaves them without emotion, ie humanity. With every other monster there is a possibility that they will feel sorry for you, respect you, or one day form a partnership/friendship with you. But with zombies there’s no empathy, absolutely none. As such I cannot understand them, cannot fangirl over them, and will be forever petrified of them.
I don’t fear rapists, burglars, or tornados; when I’m home alone at night it is always zombies that makes me turn the lights on.
So when I first read the concept behind The Forest of Hands and Teeth, I knew it would only take me so long to seek it out and confront my fear again. And maybe it’s just me and my weirdness about zombies, but I hungered for this book much as a zombie might hunger for flesh… As soon as I started reading it I could barely put it down, and physically itched to pick it back up again.
Here’s an excellent summary, taken from the book’s Amazon page:
The book begins seven generations after the Return, an undead plague that has ended civilization as we know it. Of course, a zombie outbreak usually means shotguns and mall looting–the very essence of freedom. But more than a century on from the Return, the malls have already been looted, and shotguns are a distant memory. The novel’s heroine, Mary, lives in a village surrounded by one last vestige of industrial technology: a chain-link fence, beyond which is a vast forest full of shambling, eternally ravenous undead–the forest of hands and teeth. No villager ever goes outside this fence, unless they want to die. (And given this bleak scenario, some do.)
Mary’s world is bounded not only by the fence but by the archaic traditions of her people, which are enforced by a religious order called the Sisterhood. Marriages, childbirth, death, every stage of life must be controlled to sustain the village’s precarious existence. Even the houses are circumscribed–literally–with passages of scripture carved into every entrance to remind the inhabitants of the rules that sustain human life amid the horrors of the forest.
After so long an isolation, the village is beginning to forget. Some doubt that there really was a time before the Return, with giant cities and wondrous technologies. Others believe that nothing at all exists beyond the forest of hands and teeth. And nobody but Mary and her slightly mad mother believes in something called “the ocean,” a huge and unbounded space beyond the reach of the undead.
Mary is the sort of teenager who dreams of bigger things. Not just the ocean, but epic romance and adventure beyond the fence, maybe even other villages somewhere out there, safe behind their own fences. She believes that answers can be found to questions like, What made the Return happen? And what was it like before?
The Forest of Hands and Teeth is filled with so much humanity, a stark contrast between the soulless attack corpses that thwart our main characters with every turn: A romance forbidden by the village’s laws as well as the bounds of friendship; dreams of the impossible slashed to pieces by fire, the Sisterhood, zombie attack, starvation, and in-fighting; family loyalty corrupted by deep loss; and the need to be true to one’s self curbed by duty.
Every character had multiple layers, and surprised me with their realism, given that this was obviously a very fictional book. I felt that the author had an impressive grasp of her character’s abilities and private goals, and let those reveal themselves through many physical and emotional challenges.
The plot was pleasantly unpredictable, not in a meandering or disjointed way, but in the way that life often goes awry. I had no idea where this book was going to end up, and I loved it! The physical and emotional journey of the characters was truly a journey, and I was along for the ride as much as they were. I know I keep mentioning the realism, but I was just so impressed by the plot twists that didn’t scream ‘I’m a shocking plot twist!’, yet were also completely unpredictable.
As I said above, I could hardly stand to put this book down, and I don’t feel that way about many books. I can’t think of anything that stood out to me as poorly done, or something I would have done different. I loved everything; the title, the characters, the set up of the village, and the terrifying, constant presence of The Forest and the Unconsecrated within.
For zombie fans (or in my case, zombie-phobes), this book will be your new favorite. I wish someone had told me about it sooner, or physically made me go and buy it even after I heard about it. This is one of those ‘RUN, don’t walk, to the bookstore’ kind of books.
Buy it. I PROMISE you’ll love it.
For more zombie fiction, try the following (I recommend all these personally):
World War Z by Max Brooks (another all-time favorite book)
Monster Island (Available for free online! But be careful; it’s super addictive!)
RANT by Chuck Palahniuk (rabies outbreak similar to zombies)
Cell by Stephen King
Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.