The Forest of Hands and Teeth – Carrie Ryan

ForestofHandsTitle: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan

ISBN: 9780385736824
Publisher: Delacorte Books
Publication Date: 2009
Pages: 320
Price: $9.99 (paperback)

Genre: Horror
Interest Age: 14 and up
Lexile Level: 900

Annotation: Orphaned Mary seeks to find out what lies beyond the walls fences of her village.

Plot Summary: Imagine a future where your world consists of the village you live in surrounded by the Forest of Hands and Teeth – a forest that contains the Unconsecrated, zombie-like creatures that crave living human flesh. One bite from the Unconsecrated on a living human will turn them and they, in turn, become an Unconsecrated. This is Mary’s world. A world where the village she lives in is led by the Sisterhood and the fence, the barrier, between the forest and the village is protected by the Guardians. A world where the people are taught to dedicate themselves to the Lord (God) and that their purpose is to live, to continue (basically reproduce) so humanity can survive. Mary questions this existence. When she was young, her mom use to tell her stories of life prior to the Unconsecrated passed down from generations; stories of tall metal buildings and an endless ocean untouched by the infection. When Mary goes to live with the Sisters after her mom is infected and toss out into the Forest, the truths that she grew up learning from the Sisterhood begin to unravel. Mary begins to ponder of a life outside the fence walls and when the fence is breached, her whole life, and that of her friends, is thrown into chaos.

Critical Evaluation: When I first heard the summary of this novel, I immediately thought The Village (the movie directed by M. Night Shyamalan). The similarities with The Village is basically the plot – a village surrounded by woods/forest that people cannot enter because it contains dark creatures that will kill you and then the main character stumbles upon something that threatens to unravels that whole infrastructure of the village, etc. Carrie Ryan’s dark, post-apocalyptic novel is raw and ominous with an honest, brutal look at human nature, faith, love and hope. There were times when the story felt repetitious especially the constant see-saw love triangle with Mary, Harry and Travis and certain scenes could have been spiced up but, the layers of themes in this story make this a book worth discussing.

Author Bio: Carrie Ryan is the New York Times bestselling author of the Forest of Hands and Teeth series and the co-author of The Map to Everywhere. She lives with her husband, two cats, and a rescue mutt in Charlotte, North Carolina. (via Ingram)

Tie to Curriculum Units: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: Zombies, Postapocalyptic, Love Triangle, Survival

Challenge Issues: Both School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly give this book starred reviews. PW stated “Mary’s observant, careful narration pulls readers into a bleak but gripping story of survival and the endless capacity of humanity to persevere . . .Fresh and riveting.” Additionally, the book’s popularity led to a potential movie.

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XVI – Julia Karr

XVITitle: XVI
Author: Julia Karr

ISBN: 9780142417713
Publisher: Speak
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 325
Price: $8.99 (paperback)

Genre: Dystopian
Interest Age: 12 and up
Lexile Level: 600

Annotation: The brutal death of Nina’s mother just before her 16th birthday reveals secrets not just about her life, but society itself.

Plot Summary: Nina is on the cusp of her 16th birthday and about to receive her XVI tattoo signaling that she is ready for sex. In this world, the Governing Council believe that the creation of the “sex-teen” protects girls and most girls look forward to the day they turn 16. For lower tiered girls, turning 16 allows them to join the Female Liaison Speciailists (FeLS), a career to help lift them out of poverty. Unlike the other girls, Nina is content to remain young forever and dreading her 16th birthday. When her mother is murdered, Nina uncovers shocking family secrets including her father’s identity that lead her down the road to rebellion.

Critical Evaluation: The initial draw of this book is the world Julia Karr creates. XVI sets up a futuristic world consumed by constant advertising and marketing, and girls are branded with a XVI tattoo as soon as they turn 16. This tattoo advertises their sexual availability to every boy/man and essentially makes them fair game. A promising premise. However, I had some issues with the world-building. XVI sets itself up as a misogynistic society with no legal recourse for women who are harassed, assaulted, or raped. A world where women are not only preyed on by men, but by predatory marketing, the government and media. I had some trouble connecting how today’s world shifts into the one Karr creates. How did the justice system, however minuscule it still is for women today, disappear? And how did humanity let those values vanish? Despite some issues with the world building, I still enjoyed the world Karr shows. Nina is a well-developed character – her strength in protecting Dee, her fear of being sixteen, her drive to understand her mother’s death. I enjoy following Nina’s story. However, some of the secondary characters felt flat. Grounded Wei and Flighty Sandy felt like stock characters that help emphasize Nina as the balance between the two. These characters have potential and I hope that Karr develops them more in the next book.

While it is not the best book out there, Karr creates a story and world that provokes discussion. She shows us how far predatory marketing, sexualization of women and government control can go. It is a reflection of societal ills and the treatment of women today. The themes covered and the premise of the world makes this potentially amazing. However, XVI falls short of the mark. The themes were never fully explored and it is a predictable piece.

Author Bio: Julia Karr lives in Seymour, Indiana. (via Ingram).

Tie to Curriculum Units: Sex Education

Booktalking Ideas: Dystopia, gender politics, murder, mystery

Challenge Issues: In response to a challenge, I would use Booklists’ review that states “In her unsettling debut, Karr depicts a sex-obsessed future where women are the perpetual victims of predatory marketing, and other societal ills seen in our presentfamilies trapped in the welfare system, pharmaceutical companies in bed with health-care providers and the mediahave been taken to terrifying ends. At times the message goes overboard, but theres no doubt this well-written, accessible sci-fi thriller will provoke discussion.” While the book might not be the best work out there, the topics discussed by Karr is important in today’s technology driven world as indicate in other various review sources. I would also ask for teens’ opinion.

Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

Only Ever YoursTitle: Only Ever Yours
Author: Louise O’Neill

ISBN: 9781623654542
Publisher: Quercus
Publication Date: 2014
Pages: 398
Price: $16.99 (hardcover)

Genre: Dystopian
Reading Level/Interest Age: 13 and up

Annotation: In a world where women are created to serve at the pleasure of men, sixteen year old freida must decide what is worth fighting for – her best friend or her future?

Plot Summary: Baby girls are being no longer born naturally. So eves were created – bred and educated in schools until their sixteenth birthday where they are chosen for one of three paths, companions, concubines or chastities. In this world, eves are ranked weekly by their beauty, eating disorders are encouraged, and obedience is paramount. In this world, isabel and frieda have grow up best friends sure of their future as companions – as befitting two of the most highly ranked students of their year. However, as senior year starts isabel starts drifting away and gaining weight risking her future. Bewildered by her friend’s change, frieda must make choices for her future – even if it means betraying her only friend.

Critical Evaluation: First published in the UK, O’Neill’s debut has been making waves including winning the 1st YA Book First – a recent award created for UK and Irish YA books. Finely crafted, Only Ever Yours is set in a dystopian future where it feels painfully real. By keeping the setting of the story in The School, the attitudes, judgements, expectations, and beliefs espoused in the story feel like any potential middle/high school in today’s world. The constant pushing from the school to be pretty, thin, perfect, and the right pick for a man. The continual competition to be placed at the top because there are only oh so many spots as companions. The continuous loops of subliming message like “I am a good girl. I am appealing to others. I am always agreeable.” or “emotional behaviour can be off-putting to men”. It is in this environment that we see a young girl fall apart and spiral out of control and at the center of it is her relationship with her only friend, isabel, which seems to have deteriorated as isabel’s behavior changes suddenly from top girl to gaining weight. This is not a happy or hopeful story, but one that will spark conversation on how we view modern society and women’s roles in it. A clever feminist satire.

Author Bio: Louise O’ Neill was born in west Cork in 1985. She studied English at Trinity College Dublin and has worked for the senior Style Director of American Elle magazine. While in New York, she also worked as an assistant stylist on a number of high-profile campaigns. She is currently working as a freelance journalist for a variety of Irish national newspapers and magazines, covering feminist issues, fashion and pop culture. (via Ingram)

Tie to Curriculum Units: Gender Studies, Satire, Dystopian Literature

Booktalking Ideas: Dystopia world, feminism, and female friendships

Challenge Issues: If this were challenged, I would mention that Only Ever Yours YA Book Prize winner and has this said about it: “Only Ever Yours is as far as I’m concerned not just a worthy winner of the prize but one of the best speculative fiction books I’ve read in years. It pushes the boundaries of contemporary YA. I’ll be pressing it into the hands of anyone who might read it.” from Rick O’Shea, a YA Book Prize judge and broadcaster at RTE. In addition, I would mention the positive reviews from from Publisher’s Weekly and The Guardian. Finally, I would point them to an article by the author on why she wrote this book.