Diana Peterfreund wrote a post a few weeks ago about the definition of dystopian fiction, and whether it is simply "a society featuring negative/miserable/oppressive/violent conditions" or if the society must also hold itself to be a utopia when it is in fact the opposite ("utopia gone wrong"). My own definition of dystopian fiction has generally been the second, though I would have added that some kind of government or religion is in place perpetuating the belief that the society is somehow desirable, or at least the only option.
This has long been my least-favorite genre of fiction; in fact, I was excited to learn the word dystopia a year or two ago since it gave me a term for something that I had long disliked. I read The Handmaid's Tale in high school and hated it and later refused to finish The Giver for similar reasons. I could do an entire post about the large amounts of dystopian fiction that we assign to students in schools and why that probably makes some kids dislike reading, but I'll skip it for now and state simply that I have long avoided this genre.
This is all just an excuse for why it took me over six months to finish this book.
In the end, I loved this book and gave it five stars, but it took me a long time to engage with it. In part that is because the first half or so is set in the village, and is a lot about the Sisterhood, and ceremonies like the Binding and such, and, well, there weren't enough zombies.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth is about Mary, and her longing to escape her village and find the ocean, a place that only she believes in. Mary's village is set in a forest and surrounded by fences to keep out the Unconsecrated, zombie-like figures who want only to eat human flesh. The village is controlled by the Sisterhood, and as far as anyone knows, their village is all that exists of the world. Mary is old enough to be bound, but no one has offered for her, and so she is taken in by the Sisterhood after her brother kicks her out for allowing her mother to be bitten by the Unconsecrated. The writing is beautiful, but I must confess that if the book had stayed in the village with the Sisterhood, I probably never would have finished it.
However (and this gives away nothing that isn't revealed on the flap), eventually the fences are breached, and Mary has no choice but to find out what exists in and beyond the forest. Are there other villages? Is there an ocean? What was life like before the Return (as they call the arrival of the Unconsecrated)? And is finding out the answers to these questions worth the lives of everyone she loves?
Like I said, I took a long break from this book about halfway through, but on reflection I wish I had kept reading, because I ended up liking this book very much, and I'm excited for the sequel (part 2 of a planned trilogy I think) to be released this Tuesday. I've included the trailer below. Though I would not want to read a trilogy set entirely in the village, I do want to finish this story. To learn why, you'll need to read the book. I really think you should.
Edition I Read: Hardcover (the version on the left).
Where/How I got it: Unabridged Bookstore, Chicago
Total Books Read in 2010: 23 (actually finished this in February in a final burst of reading)
Will I Make This Available to my Students?: Yes, though they are scared of zombies.
Other Books Read but not Reviewed: 0