Dude, Ryan took *everything awesome* about The Forest of Hands and Teeth and just fucked that shit up. I think you can kinda tell looking at the covers how different these two books are, too. One’s a dead looking chick floating in some waves wearing a cami. The other’s a woman looking a bit ahead, as if to say, “Yeah, bitches, I’m on a journey through a forest of zombies to find the motherfucking OCEAN. Gotta watch where my feet are going cuz HERE THERE BE ZOMBIES and I am not trying to get bitten!”
Now, the basics of the plot. Mary, the heroine from The Forest of Hands and Teeth, is older now. She’s had a few adventures, and now has a daughter. Her daughter, Gabry, lives in awe of this woman, who’s traveled further than just about anyone Gabry knows, and who’s overcome things the like of which Gabry has no ken. This awe colludes with Gabry’s terrible fear of violating the rules of Vista, the little town in which the two live, and makes Gabry a bit of a mouse… but not so much of a mouse that she doesn’t sneak over the walls protecting the village from zombies in order to have a secret night out with friends.
This… doesn’t end well. It’s a night that’ll change the lives of everyone involved — Gabry’s crush Catcher, his sister Cira, and Gabry herself. People they know will become infected. So will Catcher. In order to keep a promise to Cira, Gabry will risk breaching the walls again in order to find out what’s become of Catcher. Along the way, Gabry will meet Elias, a strange boy she feels an odd connection with. He’ll join Cira, Gabry, Catcher, and Mary on a journey BACK into the Forest of Hands and Teeth.
Now… here’s what I didn’t like.
2. Mary, the awesome heroine, has grown up, gotten herself a daughter, and now is torn between regretting her selfishness (which was what, exactly? Not giving up on her dreams after being forced into a forest with zombies? Not “settling?” Choosing to survive on her own terms? If she were a man, she’d be a nerd-hero. Shit, I really thought she was the zombie genre’s answer to Anne of Green Gables, who was unconventional, and proud of it) and relishing the opportunities not staying in boundaries has given her. The thing is, that latter point? Is coded as accepting/acknowledging mistakes, instead of a justifiable pride in having lived a full life. I was really stuck wondering what selfishness means in this new world — this could’ve been really but instead it was kinda, “Welp! Glad you’re less of a jerk now, Mary. At long last you and Harry, the boy you weren’t sure you were in love with before but now I guess are, can be together. Soooo, how’d that choosing to be with the one you want thing work out for you?”
3. Gabry is a mouse. Not only that… but she’s a mousy character who does very little except respond to circumstances. For that, she’s got three guys panting for her. One is, by the by, a rapist with a twisted leg who teaches everyone A Very Important Lesson About Sticking Up For Others Who Have Disabilities Or They May Grow Up to Rape You — it’s victim-blaming with time travel and a dash of ablism! The other two (Catcher and Elias) are totally into telling her how she’s brave, kind, and self-sacrificing, even though the READER never sees evidence of this. I kinda wanted to punch Gabry in the face — she felt like an incredible Mary Sue and also NEVER DECIDES ON ANYTHING except after the decision’s made. This brings me to my FOURTH point….
4. Narrative inconsistencies. The first thing that really pulled me out was that Daniel (the aforementioned character whose sole purpose is to wander around on his bad foot sexually harassing Gabry) says that it’s inevitable that him and Gabry get together, since they’re the only ones left their age. Okay, no, this isn’t a huge town, but I doubt that a town big enough to have an orphanage would be small enough that they’re now the only two people in their age-range… particularly since there were only a couple of kids exiled for tempting the zombies. Would the town really reduce the number of young workers and future citizens by that much if their population was so small? Is there no one around who’s single and within a plus or minus 5 years age-range from Daniel and Gabry who’s eligible for sexing? Is Gabry SERIOUSLY so compelling that every boy her age that we meet in-narrative wants to French her? If so, why does she envy girls like Mellie and Cira so much, when Gabry’s got some swag of her own? Also, when Gabry is TORN between TWO LOVES (Catcher and Elias), Catcher is all OMG I’VE BEEN INFECTED WE CAN NEVER BE, and Elias is all I’M AVAILABLE PICK ME! and then Gabry’s all THIS IS SO AWKWARD BEING WITH THE DUDE I PICKED OVER CATCHER RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM, I was all, Chick, CATCHER SAID NO REPEATEDLY, WTF DID YOU PICK?
I’m not sure what Ryan’s planning for the next book in the series. As is, she’s introduced satellites, government abandoned villages, people immune to zombie bites, but not, unfortunately, anyone with a bazooka or any references to the Umbrella Corporation. I kid, I kid. What I’m really saying is that new book introduced a ton of themes and details, and could’ve been interesting… if the narrator wasn’t so milquetoast and if the narrative inconsistencies hadn’t been so annoying. I was really disappointed – parts of Forest made me cry and other parts made me almost leap out of my skin in fright. This? Not so much.