There are two reasons Carrie Ryan's "The Forest of Hands and Teeth" has been getting buzz since it came out in March: 1) It was snapped up by Seven Star Pictures, the production company behind Kristen Stewart's next movie, "K11" (which her mom, also a senior VP of the company, is directing) — naturally spawning rumors that the "Twilight" star will be in the big-screen adaptation — and 2) it's a pretty freakin' amazing, empowering and absolutely thrilling young-adult post-apocalyptic zombie love story. That never once uses the word "zombie."
For generations, the people of Mary's village have been living in a nightmare. After a mysterious infection — which kills its victims and minutes later turns them into walking, bloodthirsty corpses, called the "Unconsecrated" — spreads through the world, they managed to build a fence around their town to keep them safe from the inhabitants of the Forest of Hands and Teeth. At this point, they've come to believe they're the only people left on Earth, and the powerful religious Sisterhood who run the village have pretty much convinced everyone that keeping their isolated status quo is the only way to survive. But after Mary's father disappears and her mother is bitten, she begins to question whether the Sisters are telling the whole story.
As if it weren't enough that Mary has to deal with the constant moaning of the Unconsecrated at the fences, the loss of her parents and threats from Sister Tabitha who has taken her in to live in the Cathedral, she also finds herself in a tangled love quadrangle. In this self-contained society, marrying and having children is a pretty serious deal. Mary has fallen in love with her childhood friend Travis, but he's spoken for her best friend, Cass. His older brother, Harry, is the one who's shown interest in Mary. And her only other option is to join the Sisterhood herself. That is, until she discovers evidence that there really is a world beyond the Forest, and there could even be such a thing as an ocean, which her mother used to tell stories about.
Now, I'm too much of a wimp to watch even the tamest of scary movies, but I was so engrossed in "The Forest of Hands and Teeth," I forgot that I don't like being scared. This is no lighthearted stuff: Characters have to chop off the heads of their loved ones when they're bitten, lest they turn, too. You are right there with Mary and her friends as they flee for their lives, running from hundreds of the decaying creatures that could have once been their parents. But in addition to the thrills of the chase, this is also a story about how one girl finds the inner strength to fight the powers that be and hope for a bigger life beyond the safe walls she's always known.
So, is Kristen Stewart going to play that Mary? She certainly resembles the pensive, dark-haired girl on the book's cover. I'll give all of you a chance to read this book, the first of a trilogy (with the second, "The Dead-Tossed Waves" due out in spring 2010). Then come back next week, and we'll play casting director.
Have you read "The Forest of Hands and Teeth"? Did it give you nightmares? Tell us!