Carrie Ryan, The Dead-Tossed Waves (Delacorte, 2010)
NOTE: this review necessarily contains spoilers for The Forest of Hands and Teeth. If you haven’t read that one yet, proceed with caution through the synopsis, as it is impossible to give any sort of synopsis of The Dead-Tossed Waves without giving away the game for the first book.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth was an amazing little book, bringing the zombie apocalypse to the YA market in a way that managed to be both commercially accessible and still not dumbing (or cheesing) down the subject matter in a way so many recent zombie novels have (and not only for the teenlit market). The Dead-Tossed Waves follows it up in a rather unexpected, and almost as wonderful, way; while the book does have a few minor problems, it ranks with The Forest of Hands and Teeth pretty darned well.
Fast-forward a number of years. Mary, the protagonist of the first book, is now a lighthouse-keeper in the small town in which she found herself at the end of the first book. Gabry, the protagonist of The Dead-Tossed Waves, is her daughter. Like Mary before her, Gabry is straining at the boundaries of the little self-contained world of her village. She has never been one to blatantly disobey the rules, as many of her friends do, by going over the wall and playing at night in the abandoned amusement park nearby that is a seeming magnet for the dead. But, as is often the case, a member of the opposite sex is the game-changer here. A glint in the eye, a rakish smile, and Gabry, in the throes of infatuation, finds herself on the other side of the wall with a bunch of her friends…when the dead arrive. Not everyone makes it back across the wall alive, and the punishment for those who do is exile. It is always exile. But Gabry finds that life outside the village is vastly different, and more varied, than she has always been told—and when a rash act by an outside entity threatens her village, Gabry and a small cadre of her friends and compatriots discover that their best hope for salvation lies on the paths of the Forest of Hands and Teeth.
The good parts of the book are easy to define; just go back to my review of The Forest of Hands and Teeth and graft those paragraphs here. Carrie Ryan’s strengths as an author remain; it never felt to me as if she’d honed her skills, but then her starting point is well in front of much of the pack, and coming off a big-selling first book, the rush and the pressure to get book two out may preclude taking the time for getting from 90% good writer to 94% good writer. Completely understandable. The places where the book is weaker are expected for basically the same reason; in fact, if I had to throw a wager on it, I’d say Ryan’s first draft to the publisher lacked most of the weak bits, and the publisher came back and said “you know, this book is missing explicit references to the first book.” There are a few of them here, and they all feel grafted on more than things that grew organically from the narrative. Given that there’s a generation between the first book and this one, again, that’s not a surprise. But you know publishers.
Short answer, which should hopefully be obvious by now: if you liked The Forest of Hands and Teeth (and was there anyone who didn’t, really?), then you’re going to want to read The Dead-Tossed Waves. And if you haven’t read The Forest of Hands and Teeth, well, what are you waiting for? *** ½
Yeah, I know. But still, trailer.