The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Mary knows there has to be something beyond the village’s surrounding fence; her mother’s stories about the ocean must be true, and Mary is determined to find it and leave the village forever.

Title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan
ISBN: 0385736827 (ISBN13: 9780385736824)

Genre: Sci-Fi ->Dystopia, Horror, Fantasy ->Zombies
Series: Yes; Can be read as a standalone
Reading Level/Interest Level: 9th grade +

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
First Publication Date: May 10th, 2009
Available Formats on Amazon: e-book, paperback, library binding, audiobook, audio CD


Mary has lived her whole life in her village, fenced off from the rest of the world. The fence is not to keep the villagers in, but to keep the flesh-eating Unconsecrated out. All day and night, Mary hears them moaning and shaking the fences, trying to get in. Yet, although she knows the danger she still wants to escape her village and find the ocean.

This feeling is intensified when she begins to realize things she took as truth may actually be false. The Sisterhood, the ones that lead them, may be lying to the village. She wants to find out the truth, wants to understand what is going on, but then her village is breached by the Unconsecrated. Unable to reach the platforms in the trees before her fellow villagers have raised the ladders, she and a group of others find shelter, outside the fence. Now, Mary must decide whether to risk her life saving her village or go on a journey to attain her dream: seeing the ocean.


Coming at this book after reading so much in the YA dystopian genre, this one seemed to fall flat. It could be that many of the books I have read in the genre have built upon this one making it seem less, or it really isn’t that great of a book, at least for pleasure reading for adults, perhaps young adults will be more forgiving.

The book, as well as our main character, seem divided between freedom from the village to see the ocean and the love story. Every time Mary became clear in her choice and need to leave, she’d see or think about Travis or Harry and wallow about her poor life and how much she wants to be with Travis. By the time they had finally left the village this had become quite annoying. As a side note, the love triangle was there and annoying, yet at the same time so unnecessary to the later part of the story.

Unfortunately, I disliked all of the characters except Jacob and the dog. It isn’t just the fact that they had flaws, I love flawed characters, but it felt like none of them truly had a personality, rather a set of actions and emotions they had to complete and do before the end of the story. Also, no matter what they did wrong, there was always something to redeem them later, which I found to be optimistic.

This is not a series I will be continuing and as for recommending it to people, I think I would do so sparingly since there are other zombie YA books out now.

Author Information from their website:

Carrie Ryan is the New York Times bestselling author of the Forest of Hands and Teeth series, Daughter of Deep Silence, and Infinity Ring: Divide and Conquer as well as the editor of Foretold: 14 Tales of Prophecy and Prediction. Currently she’s working on The Map to Everywhere, a four book middle grade series co-written with her husband, John Parke Davis, and a new young adult novel which will be released by Penguin Random House in 2017. Her books have sold in over 22 territories and her first book is in development as a major motion picture. A former litigator, Carrie now lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband and various pets. You can find her online at or on Twitter at @CarrieRyan.

Curriculum Ties:

Critical Thinking

Booktalking Ideas: 

  • Build suspense while talking about the setting.
  • Talk about Mary and her struggles with her place in life, needing to know the meaning, as this might help teens relate to her.
  • End on the climax: the village has breached, Mary needs to get safe, or will she escape and struggle towards the ocean?

Challenge Issues: 

  • violence/deaths on screen
  • religion

Challenge Defense!

  • Active listening
  • Library Selection Policy
    • Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
    • Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
  • Awards ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2010) The Georgia Peach Book Award for Teen Readers Honor Book (2010-2011) ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults (2011.3|What If…, 2011) TLA Tayshas High School Reading List (2009) Washington Evergreen Young Adult Book Award Nominee (2012) Sequoyah Book Award Nominee (2012.3|High School, 2011-2012) ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults (2017.2|Horror: Better Dead than Unread, 2017)
  • National Council of Teachers of English “Right to Read”
  • Positive and negative reviews: Novelist (expert reviews), Goodreads, Amazon (expert reviews too)
  • ALA Strategies and Tips for Dealing with Challenges to Library Materials
  • ALA Bill of Rights on Intellectual Freedom

Why this book: 

Even though I don’t like a book, it doesn’t mean that teens will not appreciate it. I might look for a horror book with better role models or at least more likeable ones, but at least this story is interesting and it is an award winner.

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