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The Dark and Hollow Places by C. Ryan

Ryan, Carrie.  The Dark and Hollow Places, New York: Delacorte Press, 2011. Print.

The statement "You don't understand!" is quite probably true when you are a teenage survivor in a post-apocalyptic zombie dystopia. Carrie Ryan does occasionally employ some very typical teenage truisms in her efforts to make the reader comprehend and feel all the varieties of potential duress zombie apocalypses might create in young adults. ("You don't understand!" is actually part of one of the few, fraught exchanges.) But if the dialogue can be a bit stilted there is very little of it and that seems to be part of Ryan's intent. Her characters are isolated and traumatized. They struggle against their well-founded sense of nihilism as they shake off their stoicism. Annah, the protagonist, finds herself inexorably drawn into emotional relationships despite knowing the living dead are everywhere, waiting to feast on the living, and that many in the dwindling herds of the healthy are not to be trusted.

The devolving world Annah negotiates is conveyed through her interior dialogue, which is entirely steeped in her myopic self-loathing, until she is drawn into a small community of other survivors who, despite their shortcomings, represent the last vestiges of humanity who are still ethically-grounded and emotionally alive. Ryan lavishes much attention on the stark details and doesn't shrink from describing the lurid nuances of her world's unceasing violent and melancholy perils. The pacing can be a bit laborious; Ryan favours the stricken, suspenseful crawl of internalized dread over the rush of descriptive action.

The Dark and Hollow Places is a zombie dystopia about the feelings of its survivors and Ryan places her principals in situations that create wrenching dilemmas which lead to unpredictable outcomes. More the pity that Annah and her friends never become particularly interesting. Their motivations are clearly mapped and all their damage laid before us but they fail to cohere in the imagination as multifaceted individuals. There is not enough descriptive complexity beyond the essential narrative mechanics to make the characters convincingly quicken to life.

The Dark and Hollow Places is the final book in Ryan's Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy.

Recommended with reservations:  2 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Matilda Roche

Matilda spends her days lavishing attention on the University of Alberta’s metadata but children’s illustrated books, literature for young adults and graphic novels also make her heart sing. Her reviews benefit from the critical influence of a four year old daughter and a one year old son – both geniuses. Matilda’s super power is the ability to read comic books aloud.