Study Guide

The Forest of Hands and Teeth Loyalty

By Carrie Ryan

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Often, my mother stands next to me holding her hand up over her eyes to block the sun and looking out past the fences and into the trees and brush, waiting to see if her husband will come home to her. (1.6)

Mary's mom hopes that her husband will remain loyal despite his transformation into one of the Unconsecrated. That hope eventually fuels her decision to join the hungry hordes in the Forest. Does this make her noble or foolish? Do you think, perhaps, her husband returned to her, and that's what caused her to get too close to the fence the last time?

I sit in a chair near the window as [Cass] kneels next to Travis's bed, her lips moving in prayer. Travis's fever hasn't broken and he is rarely awake, though he often groans in pain and thrashes on the bed. After a few visits like this, I can see that she is weary and exhausted and lost, and so I go and kneel next to her and wrap her in my arms. She collapses against me in tears. (6.33)

Why do you think Cass is lost? Because she's lost Travis? Mary? Harry? Everything Cass had planned and hoped for in her life crashed and burned with Travis on the day he slipped and fell.

I think of Cass and her blond braids and the way she smells like sunshine and the way she sobbed over Travis when he was hurt. I can't be the end of her, the end of such sweetness and light. (8.23)

Sister Tabitha has a way of playing on people's fears to get them to do her bidding. She knows Mary's got obsessive curiosity issues, but she also knows that she's got friends. When Sister Tabitha threatens the end of the village, Mary can't help but think of sweet, innocent Cass. That thought slows her down, at least.

She was only testing me. Seeing how far I was willing to twist her trust and my own loyalty. (8.38)

Yes Sister Tabitha pulls Mary's strings, but in the end, who's the foolish one—Mary or Sister Tabitha? If Mary had minded her own business, would things have turned out differently for the village? For Gabrielle? Or was Sister Tabitha the real villain after all?

I am waiting for him to push me away and tell me that we cannot do this. That I am not his to take and that he will not betray his brother. (10.27)

Oh, Mary and Travis. For them, being together means betraying everything they are loyal to in their lives: family, tradition, friends. Mary's willing to do it—or at least, she says she is. She didn't refuse Harry, though. Travis thinks he's willing to do it—until he catches a glimpse of the super-zombie. We'll never really know if either of them would have gone through with their plan in different circumstances.

The sister takes two steps toward her brother, grabs his arm and tugs, but she's too small and weak to drag him. The Unconsecrated approach and the boy struggles against his sister, batting her little hands away, pushing her toward the platforms. (14.18)

Here's a case of classic familial loyalty: a little sister trying to help her brother, and a big brother willing to die to save his sister. The irony remains that after his heroics to save her, he's the one who survives.

"Do you think we should go help them?" Harry asks.

Out of the corner of my eye I can see his hand clenching and unclenching from the ax he brought from our cottage. His voice is flooded with the same hopelessness we all feel. (16.8-9)

Oh sweet, heroic Harry. He's willing to do what's right, no matter what the fight. Swoon.

"You can't ever have known love. […] Because if you had you wouldn't be telling me to kill my wife as if it were an easy choice. You would realize that you don't let love go like that. And you would realize that you certainly never kill it. Never." (17.67)

Interesting words from big bro Jed. Perhaps a little foreshadowing here? In the end, Mary not only realizes that she'd rather have the ocean than a lifetime with Travis, but she also cuts off his zombie head. Which leaves us to wonder—Did she ever love Travis?

I turn to face the two, my hands behind me as I lean against the door. "I won't leave you," I tell him.

"I know," Travis says.

"You don't sound as if you believe me," I say.

Despite the rockiness of their relationship, Mary still refuses to be disloyal to Travis. At least when he's about to die, that is. Long story short? Mary turns on the heroics when it comes to life and death. When it's just life on the table though? Meh, heroics are for sissies then.

"I just wanted to make sure you know that if it comes between you and your dream of the ocean and keeping Jacob safe, I will choose Jacob." (30.43)

After losing Travis, Harry, and Mary, Cass needs someone to hang on to, and she chooses little Jacob, whether he likes it or not. But when Cass starts talking loyalty to her little boy, she ain't messing around.

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