Study Guide

The Forest of Hands and Teeth Chapter 1

By Carrie Ryan

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Chapter 1

  • The narrator remembers her mom telling her about this strange thing called the ocean, and recalls a photo she saw of her great-great-great-granny standing in it. Too bad the picture burned a while ago.
  • The narrator's mom told her what the ocean sounded like and that people used to ride it, and she asked her mom why their streams dried up if there was so much water to be had.
  • Her mom explained that the ocean was filled with salt, so no one could drink it; this make no sense to the girl, though, so she stops believing her mom.
  • Kind of—she still thinks about that ocean and imagines that the Forest surrounding their home is actually water, not a world full of the Unconsecrated.
  • Her mom looks past the fence into the Forest and hopes her hubby will come back okay; the narrator—pretty understandably—doesn't want to see her dad as a flesh-eating zombie, nor does she think he's somehow escaped that fate.
  • Her mom hopes her hubby found another village in the woods, though the Sisters say that's impossible because their village is the only one left.
  • The narrator thinks of her brother, Jed, a Guardian. She knows he wants to find and kill their dad before their mom sees his zombie-face.
  • She thinks of a woman who lost it after seeing one of her relatives as a zombie. The woman lit herself on fire, and the blaze destroyed all of the narrator's family heirlooms.
  • So… the narrator and Jed make sure one of them is always with their mom near the fence.
  • This walk down memory lane is over, and in the present the narrator's old playmate, Harold, comes to see her while she's washing laundry in the stream.
  • Harold asks about the narrator's mom, and the girl feels guilty. Her mom probably wants to go to the fence, but she's taking her sweet time on the laundry instead of heading back to be with her.
  • Harry takes the girl's hands under the water. Gulp. She knew this was coming.
  • He asks her to the Harvest Celebration… and we learn her name—Mary.
  • Mary looks at their hands in the water and gives us the low down on the Harvest Celebration. It's when marrying couples declare themselves to each other in the fall. They'll date all winter, and then, when spring comes, they get hitched in a ceremony called Brethlaw.
  • Mary thinks about her friends who up and got married. She'd hoped to find love like her parents, but hasn't been lucky. In fact, up until Harry asked her, she thought she might end up alone.
  • She thinks of Harry's little bro, Travis; he's done a good job of ignoring her flirtations.
  • Harry tells her Travis asked Cassandra already, which stings a bit since she's Mary's best friend.
  • Mary smiles a bit though for her friend, which Harry interprets as a yes in response to his question. Just as he leans in to kiss (disappointed) Miss Mary, the village siren wails, stopping their liplock.
  • Mary is about to bolt back to the village—she keeps thinking mother—though Harry tries to hold her back. Ain't gonna happen, dude.
  • Mary knows what the sirens mean: the Unconsecrated have breached the fence somehow. This is bad news, for sure.
  • She thinks of her mom's stories: Back in the day, the Unconsecrated broke through all time, until they built up the fences and created a brute squad of Guardians to watch out for the villagers.
  • Everyone is hanging out above on the platforms when Mary notices Guardians pulling a person to the Cathedral. Not good—she knows it's her mom.
  • Mary feels seriously guilty for not being with her mom. Turns out her mama got too close to the fence and chomp… now she's on her way to becoming a zombie.
  • She isn't dead yet though, so Mary can sit with her and pretend she's still a little girl and everything is all right.
  • Things are far from all right, though, and Mary's mom will soon either join the zombie horde in the Forest, or the villagers will have to kill her. This choice exists thanks to an old widow who wanted to be with her zombie husband rather than dead.
  • Mary thinks both options are terrible.

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