Study Guide

The Forest of Hands and Teeth Sacrifice

By Carrie Ryan

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"That is why you must leave Travis alone. I have watched the way you covet him. But he is not for you." […]

I don't know what to say or how to respond and so I nod, the pain inside me too intense. She is asking me to give up the only thing I have left. (8.26-27)

What else has Mary given up? Well, her dad, her mom, and her brother, for starters. Not to mention her trust in the Sisterhood. Oh yeah—and a chance for peace and happiness with Harry. At this point, all Mary's got going for her is a love for Travis and a dream of the ocean.

I press my face into his pillow, trying to smell him, trying to remember. It is a test to see if I can really give him up.

I know that I never will. Even to save him. I am too selfish. (8.44-45)

Sounds good, but ain't true in the end—sorry, Mary. That selfishness ends up inspiring Travis to sacrifice himself—because in the trees, Mary realizes that she will give up Travis. Sheesh, she'll give up Jed and Harry and Cass too, if it means she'll reach the ocean.

I shake my head in disbelief. "But you said that you loved Harry and yet you are willing to set him aside. Why?"

Once again she shrugs. "I'm doing what is best for him. And for the village. This is the way it has to be, Mary. This is the way it will be." (9.61-62)

Cass may not be a romantic, but she knows a thing or two about sacrifice for the greater good, and in her mind, keeping the village up and running is the greater good. Who cares about her puny heart when the safety of her whole world lies in the balance?

As expected, extreme and complete isolation was the cause of her immense strength and speed. God help us all, we will send her to the Forest to see how long she lasts, to better understand her. It is through her sacrifice that we grow stronger. It is through His glory that we survive. (12.8)

Does this mean that Gabrielle had already turned before they sent her to the Forest, or did Sister Tabitha write all this after she'd sacrificed her to the flesh-eaters? Did Sister Tabitha know Gabby was the type that would make a super-zombie? Maybe her words are just trying to make herself feel better for the mistake she made, but in the end, super-zombie Gabby certainly didn't make the village any stronger. Nope—she destroyed it.

"Going down that path would kill us all, Mary," Cass says. "You're selfish to want to sacrifice all of us for your own selfish whims." (16.44)

Perhaps Cass is right. After all, if anyone else did survive in the village, it seems like that would be the safest place to go. Or would it? Maybe Cass is just so stuck on what she knows that she can't think straight about what would truly be best for the group.

Cass collapses, pulling Jacob to her and offering him the last of her rations—the food that she herself has not been eating but saving for him. (21.27)

Sweet Cassy-poo… She loses her man, her pseudo-man, and her best friend, but she still refuses to be selfish and she'll give up everything she's got to save little Jacob. That there's some true heroism, like it or not.

"Up on that hill, when we finally kissed, I wanted you more than anything else in the world. More than the village or my brother's friendship or my betrothed." He cringes at the word as if it's bitter on his tongue.

"I still want you more than anything else in the world," he whispers. "I would still risk it all for you." (25.23-24)

True that. So what if Travis didn't come for her back in the day? He gives her everything—including her dreams—on those paths.

"Would you ever give up the ocean for me?"

[…] I had once hoped that, as it did for my mother, love would keep all other dreams at bay. The realization that it will not washes over me and I walk through the door, leaving him without an answer. (29.73-74)

Mary ain't willing to give up her ocean for anything or anyone, not even the man she loves. Either this is a really inspiring story about following dreams or a sad, pathetic love story.

"Promise me you'll go to the ocean," he says.

I shake my head. "But you said—"

"Forget what I said. Promise me you will taste the salt for me." (32.31-33)

True colors. Even after Mary cuts Travis loose and basically tells him he's not worth the ocean to her, he stays true to her. Since he can't have all of Mary's heart, he gives her the only gift her heart desires—freedom to find her ocean.

I know that I can't let him down by stopping. He's dead because of me and I can't dishonor his sacrifice by refusing to move forward. (33.12)

See what Travis did? That's right, he died. But that's not all—by making Mary promise to find that ocean, he gives her the extra oomph she needs to keep going. Would she have braved the Forest alone without that kind of inspiration? Hard to say.

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