Study Guide

The Forest of Hands and Teeth Fear

By Carrie Ryan

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Now I sometimes fear coming to the edge of the Forest and looking past the fence. I am afraid I will see him there with the others: tattered clothes, sagging skin, the horrible pleading moan and the fingers scraped raw from pulling at the metal fences. (1.7)

At the beginning of the story, all Mary fears is the sight of her father as a zombie. By the end, after losing almost everyone else she loves, that fear seems like a cakewalk.

I want to laugh; if they are so afraid of my doing something drastic after facing my mother's death why do they place me in a room that overlooks the site where she turned? (3.5)

What do you think? Did the Sisters place Mary in this room on purpose? Or was it a mistake?

I tell myself that I have nothing to fear in this strange place. That the Sisterhood has always protected the people of the village. And yet I cannot stop the chill that overtakes my body and seeps into my bones. (4.6)

Sometimes fear creeps in even when we don't expect it. Mary's body knows that something isn't right, even before her brain figures it out. The thing is, the Sisterhood truly thought they were protecting Mary (and the village) by threatening her. Didn't work out so well, though.

Instinctively I jump up and then crouch, my hands out in front of me. Ready to defend myself. I spin left and right, my surroundings passing in a blur. Frantically I turn back toward the hole I climbed out of, back to the safety of the underground tunnel, but Sister Tabitha is blocking my way. (4.16)

This is the story of Mary's life for a while after her mom becomes a zombie. No matter what Mary wants, Sister Tabitha stands in her way. Let's think of some more examples, shall we? Mary wants Travis, Sister T says no way; Mary wants to meet Gabby, Sister T says absolutely not; Mary wants freedom, Sister T says not happening. Sensing a pattern here?

A spark of alarm sets fire inside me. Her words echoing loudly in my head, that I will be the end. It's like a puzzle piece clicking into place, a sudden understanding of why Sister Tabitha has been keeping me so close, why she doesn't even allow me to leave the Cathedral. (8.22)

Mary realizes that Sister Tabitha ain't so fearless herself. She's terrified that Mary's rebellion will topple the village order and cause Sister T's own downfall. Sounds selfish and power-hungry, right? Take a look at it from Sister T's perspective: If the village order collapses, then the slight hold they have on the zombies also collapses. In her mind, it's either Sister Tabitha or flesh-eating chaos, which makes it pretty ironic that ultimately Sister Tabitha's decision causes the downfall of the community.

I squeeze my eyes and nod my head. Terrified that he'll cast me out for such a desire—that he'll refuse me and I will be left to the Sisters. (13.45)

Mary's one confused chica. On the one hand, she tries to psych herself up to leave the village and break all the rules, but on the other hand, she's terrified of Harry's rejection. If she's willing to break all sorts of rules, who cares if he rejects her? Truth is, Mary's like a middle-school girl who hauls her friends to the bathroom with her for fear of going alone. She wants to break the rules, but she's not brave enough to do it by herself.

[Argos's] nails scrabble and slide uselessly on the wood and I can sense his rising panic. He lifts his head as if to howl, his teeth bared, his eyes pleading for me to do something. (14.10)

Argos is completely terrified. And what do people (and dogs, in this case) do when they're terrified? That's right, seek comfort. The trouble is that no one can give him the comfort he desires. Why? Well, the entire village has been stormed by zombies. Not much comfort in that.

"What?" Cass yells. Her voice has a note of hysteria in it and she steps around Harry to see for herself. She begins to bang against the section of fence that ends the path, and she reminds me of the Unconsecrated, always wanting what is on the other side. (19.1)

Fear can make people do crazy things. Ever read Lord of the Flies? We rest our case. In Cass's situation, her fear of death doesn't cause her to spear an innocent kid on a beach (shudder), but it does cause her to act like those she fears the most. All Cass wants is safety and normalcy, but that's not likely to happen in a forest full of walking dead. Poor girl.

"When they come to our village, who will know about me?"

"I know about you, Mary." He places his hand on my cheek, trails one finger along my jaw, and I'm forced to close my eyes so that he doesn't read in my expression the words that ring in my head but that I can't say aloud. That it is not enough.

That I am terrified he is not enough. (23.58-60)

Mary may act like she's all that and a bag of chips, but she's one scared chica underneath. She's scared that she'll be forgotten by society, and in her mind being forgotten is like someone taking an eraser to her entire existence. But that's not all, folks—she's also upset that Travis remembering her just won't cut it. What do you think is enough for Mary? Will she ever find the answers to her fears, even if she makes it out to the ocean?

He kneels in front of me and I sit with my knees bent, my weight back on my hands. I am afraid to meet his eyes. Instead, we both look at my feet and legs, which are covered in blood, my skirt in tatters. (26.32)

Close your eyes and imagine what the Travster and Mary must be feeling in this moment. She's alive, yes, but if she's bitten, she might as well be dead. It's like looking death in the face, but it's your legs instead. Shudder.

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