The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Stephenie Meyer has the vampires and the werewolves covered. So it’s about time that young adult literature tackled another legendary/undead creature – zombies. Are you in the mood for a zombie apocalypse?

(Also, this is a good time to stoke the fires of the zombie/unicorn YA debate. I wish that I could be all tough and awesome and say that I like zombie stories best, but zombie stories are kind of creepy. I am not so much a fan of the creepy. Also, Planet Unicorn is awesome. And you don’t have to be an eight-year-old gay boy named Shannon to think so. I know my mom likes Planet Unicorn. I rest my case.)

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is about Mary, a young woman who lives in a village surrounded by fences to keep out the Unconsecrated that live in the forest nearby – the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Are the Unconsecrated the only thing beyond the fence, as Mary has always been taught, or are the stories that her mother used to tell her true? Is there an ocean? And could she find it?

There is also a bit of a love story – not zombie love, don’t worry. Mary loves a boy named Travis, but his brother Harry is the one who pursues her. As Mary deals with her feelings for the two brothers, she is also faced with the question of what love is and what she is willing to sacrifice for it.

I thought it was interesting that the book doesn’t deal with the question of the Return (how the zombies took over the world), because Mary doesn’t know the story of the Return herself. Whether that is because no one in her village knows the story or because people are deliberately not being told (there is a mysterious religious order that might know more than they have been letting on) is not completely clear. It almost made me want to read more about zombies, to think about the different ways that zombies can be created (and thus, take over the world). But I would like to continue to be able to sleep, so I am not going to pursue that line of thinking.

I was a little bit scared to start this book, but I am glad I read it. It was a good story, scary without being too vivid in its descriptions (and when the zombies attacked, I could read those parts pretty quickly), and it kept my heart racing all the way to the end. I often have students who want something scary, and that’s an area in which I am usually at a loss. Now I can hand them this book – with the disclaimer not to read it after dark.

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