In the Forest of Hands and Teeth Carrie Ryan creates a post-apocalyptic world you wouldn't want to live in. Imagine a world in which the Unconsecrated (we know them as zombies) outnumber the living and only a series of metal fences keep the reanimated dead from feasting on the flesh of the last surviving humans. Naturally the bite of an Unconsecrated infects the living, killing them and turning them. So those dead folk milling around bear the faces of people you once loved, and if you stumble too close to the links in the fence, you could shortly be joining the rank of the monsters . Good times!
Teenaged Mary loses first her father, then her mother to the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Then her brother turns her out of the house. No man will speak for Mary, so she winds up at the Cathedral, destined to join the religious Sisterhood. The reader immediately gets the heebie-jeebies about these Sisters, who clearly know more about the zombie situation than they're letting on. The Sisters insist that nothing exists beyond the forest, that once the fences run out there are only more Unconsecrated and certain doom. But Mary's mother told her tales of an ocean and Mary's obsession with finding a life beyond the limits of her village begins to overshadow everything, even her budding love for her childhood companion,Travis. This love is already complicated by the fact that Travis is bethrothed to her best friend and then complicated further still when Travis's brother finally asks for Mary to be his wife. Luckily at this point the zombies attack.
I loved this, though the first few chapters went a little slowly at first. Perhaps it was just my mood but I found some of the information repeated more times than neccesary. Luckily the story quickly picks up. It's gripping, exciting and eerie, just as a zombie tale is meant to be. I liked that Mary was torn between love for a man and her obsessive goal of finding life beyond the confined village. The constant backdrop of moaning zombies was a nice touch---the reader can practically hear the constant caterwauling and it's easy to imagine how unnerving that would be. I also got the willies every time the author described how close the main characters would get to the fences, close enough for the zombies to run their ragged fingers through the humans' hair.
I really only have two complaints about the book: 1) Exactly how much did the Sisters know? I never felt like this was adequately answered. Perhaps it was a subtlety I missed entirely; and 2) Couldn't we have gotten a better cover? This cover does not scream ZOMBIE NOVEL! Portrait of a contemplative teenage girl is fine for mainstream contemporary, but let's up the ante for post-apocalyptic zombie love triangle. Honestly! That said, this book is well worth reading. Settle in for a creepy ride, and hope and pray you never find yourself face to face with the Unconsecrated.