Justin's Reviews > The Dead-Tossed Waves

The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
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's review
Mar 15, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: dystopian, horror, romance, zombies, young-adult
Read from March 15 to 28, 2011

I remember coming away from this series’ previous volume, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, with a strong conviction that it should be sitting where the Twilight books are, in terms of paranormal romance for teens and young adults. I stand by that conviction after finishing this second volume, though I stand by it for good and for ill. Ryan does a great job of melding horror with teen romance and existential doom and gloom, and does it with no undercover moralizing, using characters that are actually sympathetic and believable. But the moping. For God’s sake, the moping. The second book confirms that Ryan is writing the most emo zombie story ever. Despite the fact that I’m not really getting into it, though, I can recognize this book’s strong points.

This is technically a sequel, but it actually takes place years after the end of the first book. Gabrielle lives in the walled-off village of Vista, a seaside bastion of humanity on the sea. Trapped between the nearby ruins of the larger city, the dreaded Forest of Hands and Teeth, and an ocean that regurgitates the undead (known in Vista as the Mudo) at every high tide, Gabry has only known the highly regulated safety of Vista, and the relative tranquility of living in Vista’s lighthouse with her odd, outsider mother. However, a playful expedition outside the wall changes everything; on the heels of her first kiss, Gabry and her friends are attacked by the Mudo, and she is the only one to escape being captured and detained by Vista’s militia for breaking the village’s strict rules. A second trip into the wild in order to discover the whereabouts of Gabry’s true love reveals the presence of Elias, a mysterious boy living alone in the ruins that may or may not be part of a strange and misunderstood cult. Fate conspires to push Gabry out of her secure shell in Vista, away from the sea and into the place where her mother came from years ago: The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

What follows is an orgy of sulking, scowling, pouting, crying, overly dramatic hand gestures, and sudden swings between elation and nihilism. Or at least, it seemed that way. The major conflicts in The Dead-Tossed Waves are surprisingly internal: Gabry’s reconciliation of her past, her relationship with her best friend, her relationship with her mother, her choice between the boy she knows and the boy she doesn’t. This is all meaty stuff, especially set against the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, but it lends itself well to the woe-is-me approach, especially considering that relationship trouble really could coincide with the end of the world, in this case. So, yeah. Mope, mope, mope.

Meanwhile, as with the first book, the zombies are part of the setting rather than an imminent threat. They are always waiting in the wings, but a balance has been achieved that offers a modicum of safety. So, instead of being the stalking threat they usually are, the undead is a stemmed tide behind a dam that must always be vigilantly maintained. In fact, this plays into one of this book’s major themes: the choice between clinging to what you know as it crumbles around you, and being brave enough to risk creating something new. In this, Ryan succeeds beautifully, as nearly every facet of the story plays into this theme.

However, I was a little disappointed at the fact that, for such a character-driven story, there isn’t a lot character-wise in this book that we didn’t see in the last book. Before, we had a rebellious and free-spirited young girl, whose rash actions bring about catastrophe, forcing her into both a love triangle and a flight away from safety. This time, our hero is a shy, insecure, and scared young girl. So, it’s a little galling that her story is exactly the same, down to the hand-wringing love triangle. I suppose there’s an argument for there being an interesting parallel between the two books, considering who the main characters are in each. But again, I found myself wading through too much shoe-gazing ennui to really appreciate that fact.

But I didn’t hate this book. Really, I didn’t. The zombie attacks are actually quite frequent, for all the romance, and are genuinely scary. The mythology that Ryan builds is fascinating, actually; the structure of the post-apocalyptic world is made all the more interesting by the paucity of details. We get into some even more unexplained stuff, this time… Dark City? Immunity to the infection? Zombie hordes? Considering how nicely this book tied up some of the loose ends from the last book and explained some of the concepts that were hinted at, though, I’d expect that the third book would do the same. And the ending nearly made up for the tedium that comes before, capped off by a harrowing escape sequence that is both exciting and thematically brilliant.

So, my biggest problem is that the interesting mythology is only given enough page time to leave me wanting more, in between the long stretches of Gabry wandering around listlessly and feeling sorry for herself. I’d actually hesitate to recommend this as a zombie book, because it’s first and foremost a teen romance, armies of undead notwithstanding. I don’t think I’m quite the target reader for this one, but it is perfect for those that have a taste for horror and are fond of good old-fashioned teen angst.
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