Friday, April 8, 2011

The Forest of Hands and Teeth: The Characters

Greetings, Fearless Readers. We are in week two of our study of The Forest of Hands and Teeth. If you want to read week one’s blog post, it are here.

I’ve watched many a movie of brain-seeking flesh eaters, but as I’ve said, this was my first zombie book. I don’t know about you, but I require more from a book than a movie. Movies of certain genres have certain character requirements. In the zombie movie, you have the brave leader, probably an anti-hero, thrust into the position. In this case, there is usually a gun-slinging braggadocio trying to take everything over, who will either get eaten as the audience clenches their fist and punches the air, or who will bow to the reason of the anti-hero and become his loyal second-in-command. Or, our leader IS a gun-slinging braggadocio who has learned a difficult lesson, most likely seeing a wife, girlfriend, mother or sister get eaten. These leaders don’t usually have a second. They are all that is needed. Others: a helpless girl or nerdy guy who completely freaks out and is a danger to the rest, or who is suddenly filled with sense and purpose in the face of said apoxyclips. The old man or woman who will die horribly and have to be shot after they turn. The innocent child everyone wants to protect - the hope of the future. Ah humanity. What a stew it makes. There are, and aren’t, some of all of these characters in The Forest of Hands and Teeth. It has what all zombie situations need. Bravery, weapons, and people willing to do what has to be done, in the face of horrors we hope we never have to face ourselves.

Now to the characters.

Mary is the main character and our narrator. She wonders about the ocean and life beyond the fences. We know her dad has left, but it’s never explained why or where he went, only that Mary hopes he found another enclave like their village. I admire that she doesn’t just take what the Sisterhood tells her about life and “the way things are”. But she is also torn. The Sisters tell her the blind hope there is something else “out there” is detrimental to her future. There is only one future: find a man and marry him, oh, and since you’re a special case, you’ll take the man we think you should be with or you come and live with us! Unfortunately, she doesn’t love the guy. Mary tells us that marriage in her community isn’t about love, it’s about commitment. And Mary’s torment between what she wants and what she should do for the good of the community is palpable. You are with her every step of the way, seeing why, in such a tight community, you don’t always get what you want. I think it would be hard to be a dreamer and live in a post-zombie apocalyptic world.

Jed: Mary’s brother. He’s a Guardian: someone who watches and patrols the fences, keeping the community safe. He is also privy to secrets about the fences that aren’t revealed to the other characters until the need arises. It’s one of the first suggestions that things in their community aren’t as open as they all believe. He also volunteers for extra duty when their father leaves, hoping that if he has become unconsecrated Jed can shoot him before their mother finds out. Obviously, Jed knows how to be hard. At times, he comes off a little too hard, but he’s believable. I’m glad he’s not my brother.

Travis and Harry are brothers, and have the annoying habit of not backing their decisions with action. They bounce back and forth between what they want and what they are willing to do to get it. Both love Mary. She doesn’t realize this as she only has eyes for Travis. I give it up for Ryan for not giving us a predictable triangle. Harry isn’t demonized, but Travis isn’t lauded. In other words, I felt Harry and Travis were irritatingly human. I wanted everyone to be happy, but there was no way that was going to happen. Travis doesn’t ask to marry Mary, instead he asks her friend, Cass. I finally just guessed that Travis stepped aside for his bother, despite the face he tells Mary he loves her. In that situation, I would rather not have know. Anyway, Travis professes his love to Mary, but as he is badly injured, and the Sisters are probably putting pressure on him, he is either physically unable, or emotionally unwilling to fulfill any of his promises, leaving Mary confused and hurt.

Cass is Mary’s best friend. She listened to her stories about life before the Return (their name for the apoxolyps) But now, things between Travis and Harry make things weird. Cass isn’t a very strong character, just someone to make Mary feel bad about having the love of both brothers, or that’s how it felt. We really see very little of someone who is supposed to be Mary’s best friend. Of course, my niece's name is Cassie, and if she were in a zombie apoxyclips, that kid would kick some zombie ass. I guess I just expected more from someone named Cass.

So. There you have the characters according to one reader. If you have other ideas, or see more or less in what I've posted, please chime in. Next week is criticism of the plot and book in general. I'm going to talk a little about expectations of books as well. Until then, keep reading.

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