Carrie Ryan's "The Forest of Hands and Teeth" and its sequel, "The Dead-Tossed Waves," both possess titles that quite literally described the location of the zombie infestation plaguing its central characters—girls who face the typical struggle of self-discovery while also just trying to survive in a world controlled by monsters and fear. The name of the trilogy's conclusion, "The Dark and Hollow Places," isn't just about the subway tunnels where the undead lurk. It's about the way protagonist Annah and the other residents of post-zombiepocalypse New York try to clear themselves of emotion and attachment in the face of unfathomable loss.
But though that last sentence makes this book sound mega-depressing, following Annah's efforts to wake up and cherish life after years of walling herself off is actually a surprisingly uplifting experience. Particularly when intercut with riveting action sequences that often involve machetes and crossbows.
SPOILERY RECAP OF THE FIRST TWO BOOKS: In "Forest," Mary fulfilled her dream of escaping her isolated village and its oppressive nuns and made it to the seaside town of Vista. "DTW" is the story of Mary's daughter, Gabrielle, whose sheltered existence (I mean, sure, she has to decapitate the zombies that wash up on shore every day, but it's a living) is shattered when her first love Catcher is bitten. Then she meets a stranger names Elias, who, a few plot twists later, turns out to be a boy from Gabrielle's forgotten past, back when her name was actually Abigail and she had a twin sister named Annah. The girls were just 5 when they got lost on a forest path with Elias, and after Abigail tripped and fell, Elias and Annah got so scared, they left her behind and never found their way back to the village. They grew up in the city, while Mary found and adopted Abigail.
In "Dark and Hollow Places," just as a teeming horde of undead overwhelm New York, now called the Dark City, Annah is reunited with Abigail and Elias thanks to Catcher. His strange immunity to the zombie virus makes him a valuable asset to the Recruiters, the military force now ruling the Dark City and its surrounding area. The Recruiters take all four into their Sanctuary, the only safe place left, but Annah soon realizes that Elias and the girls are actually hostages, kept alive by the cruel Recruiters just to make sure that Catcher will work for them. Meanwhile, Annah is tortured by the fact that Elias, her childhood companion, is now in love with Abigail/Gabrielle. Oh, and also, Annah was also scarred as a girl when she stepped into a barbed wire trap in an abandoned subway tunnel, so she's got tons of self-esteem issues on top of everything. But wait, isn't Catcher also tormented inside and out by his infection? Love quadrangles are the best.
But seriously, plot description can't do justice to this trilogy—the movie adaptation of which is still in frustrating limbo. I can't properly convey how it infiltrates your nightmares and daydreams with its horror scenes and moody contemplations. You just have to explore those dark, hollow places for yourself.
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