The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Carrie Ryan
ISBN 978-0-385-73681-7
Delacorte, 2009
Grade 7 and up
Science Fiction/Dystopia/Post-Apocalyptic/Zombie

Mary must venture beyond the Forest of Hands and Teeth, battle the Unconsecrated, and reconcile the knowledge that is a part of her with the truth in order to survive.


Mary knows and expects certain things, although she may not like them. The Sisterhood holds the knowledge and knows best; due to the Guardians and the fence, her community is safe from the Unconsecrated (the undead); she will marry Harry although she loves his brother, Travis. After her father, an Unconsecrated, attacks her mother, Mary’s whole life is turned upside down. Mary is not chosen for marriage by Harry and must live with the Sisterhood as a result. There, Mary begins to discover that everything she thought she knew was wrong. The Sisterhood and Guardians have been keeping Mary’s community in the dark, they think they are the last humans left on the planet. This belief is proven wrong when a stranger comes to town and is quickly hidden away. The young girl is quickly thrown to the Unconsecrated. Shortly after the Unconsecrated breach the fence and an attack on the village ensues. Mary, along with her brother and his wife, Harry, Travis, and Travis’ betrothed must make a choice, stay and defend the village or venture into the unknown. The group opts for the unknown and discovers further truths along the way. They encounter dead villages and super-fast zombies, photos of the mysterious ocean, books, and clothing from bygone eras. A history that they never knew of comes to light. As Mary struggles to get to the ocean romances and relationships emerge and change. Mary sacrifices everything to get to her destination, when she gets there it is not the haven she expected, but it is something.


When I finished this book the first thing I thought was “I hope there is a sequel”. Although the world that Ryan has created in The Forest of Hands and Teeth is nothing truly new, she executes a very solid rendition with characters that I loved. The relationships rang true for me and the zombie variations were interesting. Ryan developed an attention-grabbing collective memory/mythology for Mary’s community. I can’t wait to read more.

Curriculum Ties:

Tie in with lessons on oral history and the formation of collective memory.


Teen sexuality, questioning of authority.

These elements are very mild. Ask challengers to refer to reviews and read the whole book.

Selection Rationale:

This is not a frivolous zombie book, the writing is gorgeous and Mary, a strong teenage girl, struggles through both physical and mental obstacles. She is introspective and a fighter. The suspense is immense. This is a great new book in the post-apocalyptic/dystopian tradition. I also just love this genre so I wanted to read this new addition.

“In this sci-fi/horror novel, the suspense that Ryan has created from the very first page on entices and tempts readers so that putting the book down is not an option. The author skillfully conceals and reveals just enough information to pique curiosity while also maintaining an atmosphere of creepiness that is expected in a zombie story. Some of theof death and mutilation of both the Unconsecrated and the living are graphic. The story is riveting, even though it leaves a lot of questions to be explained in the sequel.” – School Library Journal

“For once, the hype surrounding a novel is not exaggerated. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is unputdownable.” – The Guardian


Tell a little about the “history” and structure of Mary’s town.

About the author:

This is Carrie Ryan’s first novel. Previously, Ryan was involved in the dot com business and law. She aspired to write chick lit until her boyfriend told her to write what she loves; the result is The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

Additional Information:

The Forest of Hands and Teeth has been picked up by Seven Star Pictures.

The second book in this trilogy, The Dead-Tossed Waves, will be released in Spring 2010.