The Forest of Hands and Teeth

by Carrie Ryan

{ 2009 | Delacorte Books for Young Readers | 320 pgs }

Would you like to read a book about zombies?

This isn’t the one to read.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is about a post-apocalyptic village (with a Middle Ages feel) completely surrounded by fences to keep out the Unconsecrated (read: zombies). The Unconsecrated are those who have been infected, briefly died, and then returned as living dead whose only drive is to eat flesh.

The main character, Mary, believes the stories her mother told her, passed down through generations, about the ocean. A beautiful, enormous stretch of water where there are no Unconsecrated. Throughout the heartbreak and tragedy of her younger years, Mary wonders if the ocean really does exist, but is forced to accept the reality that her village contains the only survivors in the world and they must stay where they are.

I hope you don’t mind if I spoil the plot a little. If you do, skip ahead a bit.


Love triangle (rhombus?), death, nuns, a visitor from outside. Mary learns – although it is kept secret by the nuns – that there are other survivors when a girl about her age arrives from another village. She is not infected, but the nuns lock her up. Mary is a sneaky, too-curious-for-her-own-good young woman who talks to the girl (Gabrielle) and decides to investigate. More love rhombus, more love rhombus, more nuns; in the midst of a love rhombus scene, Mary sees Gabrielle on the other side of the fence protecting the village – Gabrielle is now one of the Unconsecrated, and she’s fast, unlike the other zombies who are slow and clumsy. After more too-curious-for-her-own-good investigation, Mary learns that the nuns released Gabrielle into the forest because they knew it would make her into a superzombie.

The next day, the village is attacked! Gabrielle has figured out a way to get in, because she’s a smart superzombie. Mary, her fiance Harry, her love interest Travis (Harry’s brother), and Travis’ fiancee Cassandra (Mary’s best friend) all manage to escape through a protected path leading out of the village. So do Mary’s brother Jed and his wife. Oh, and a little boy they grabbed along the way.

Big spoiler: everyone in the village dies.


Alright. So Mary and her friends are trying to survive. That’s the point of the book. Unfortunately, Mary is one of the most annoying characters ever written.

At the beginning of the book, she decides she’ll be happy if she could just go to the Harvest Festival (prom?) with Travis, but gets asked by Harry. Then no one ends up taking her, and she just wants to be spoken for. By Harry, sure. Then she falls in love with Travis and is heartbroken because she can’t be with him. Harry speaks for Mary. She has a talk with Travis. She decides that all she needs to be happy is to be with Travis.

Then once they’re trying to survive, and she has Travis, more or less, she decides that all she needs to be happy is to find the village Gabrielle came from. They finally find it, and now she has a nice cozy house for just her and Travis. But soon she finds another reason to be unhappy: the woman whose house they’re living in is most likely one of the Unconsecrated milling around outside, but what if she has managed to escape and she’s in some other village and no one will remember her story? What if no one remembers Mary’s story? Travis reassures her that he’ll remember, he’ll be part of her story. This is not good enough.

Mary sulks. And sulks. And eventually decides that what she needs to be happy is to find the ocean.

That’s right – she got the guy, and the happy life, and she started actively looking for more reasons to be dissatisfied. She just doesn’t want to be content. Did I mention I really can’t stand Mary? She’s willing to sacrifice everyone she loves – and to make them sacrifice themselves – for the sake of the ocean. Another spoiler: she gets to the ocean, and there are still zombies.

Aside from Mary’s character flaws (which are numerous), I had too many unanswered questions about the plot. Why did the nuns release Gabrielle into the forest? This, to me, was a gaping hole that absolutely required filling in. It seems utterly lazy of the author to have brought it up once and never addressed it again. I would have liked to hear a little more about the origins of the Unconsecrated, since there was plenty of downtime with Mary sitting reading old newspapers. (Yes, it was boring.)

Bottom line, this book was too much Mary and not enough zombies.



One Comment on “The Forest of Hands and Teeth”

  1. Alicia says:

    If you want a good book about zombies, you should read World War Z by Max Brooks. Matt made me read it and I was quite skeptical, but I’m pretty sure it has to be the best book about zombies ever written. Plenty of zombie, no awkward love shapes. Just saying…

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