The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan may not at first glance seem the ideal book to be reading in the dread middle of February, when everything is grey and dark and cold and the snow (if you've got any) has turned black with grit. Like you need any more bleak right now, right? As it turns out, Ryan's novel is a love story and a survival story, and really, what else is February about? If love and survival don't interest you, I'll just add one more thing that might convince you: zombies.
This novel is a companion to Ryan's hugely popular debut, The Forest of Hands and Teeth. (Such a great title, yes?) If you haven't read that one yet, you do want to start there, because a great part of the impact of The Dead-Tossed Waves comes from the way that Ryan continues to add richness to the world she began developing in her first book. You can read a review of her debut right here at Guys Lit Wire). The Dead-Tossed Waves begins years after where things left off at the end of The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Gabry lives with her mother in Vista, a seaside town kept safe behind the Barrier. They live in a lighthouse and it is Gabry's mother's role to go down to the beach at high tide and kill any Mudo (zombies) that wash up onto the beach. Gabry knows little of her mother's past, but she knows that the Forest was part of it. While Gabry is curious about the past, and wonders about the precariousness of the future, she is mostly happy to live safely inside her protected town. Then one night she sneaks over the Barrier with a bunch of her friends and disaster strikes. Her mother disappears into the Forest and Gabry must follow her. One reckless choice changes her future forever and forces Gabry to do things she never imagined.
While I don't think that this companion novel is ultimately as successful as Ryan's debut, I think that it will satisfy most of the fans of the first book. In my opinion, Gabry is not as complex and believable a character as Mary (her mother in this book / the main character in Forest of Hands and Teeth). I thought Gabry's reactions to her situation were predictable and not particularly well-explored. I'd have liked more detail on the Soulers (freaky zombie worshippers) and a lot more related to the Recruiters, the military force responsible for keeping the Mudo (and disobedient citizens) in line. The love triangle didn't fully work for me. I kept feeling that Ryan was going for a Katniss - Peeta - Gale thing, and not quite making it work. In places I found it a little over the top and unbelievable that there would be quite so much lusting going on in the midst of all those moaning zombies.
There are many great aspects to the novel. Ryan has a strong sense of pacing. Things happen and keep on happening. Things get worse and then even worse. On her website, Ryan describes her writing process this way: "I sit down and think: "what's the worst thing that can happen?" Well obviously she's pretty good at this, because that method leads Ryan to a compelling story. The themes around hope, loss, and self-discovery interweave nicely and are presented with enough depth to inspire some discussion. The writing is often vivid but isn't heavy or overdone.
Carrie Ryan's third book in this collection, The Dark and Hollow Places, will be out in March, so you won't have long to wait to find out what happens next in this dark, well-crafted series.