Mary is living in a small, isolated village in the middle of what she calls the Forest of Hands and Teeth. She is hoping that a boy she has been friends with for a long time, Travis, will choose to court her and they will marry in the Spring. Unfortunately, it is Harry, Travis’s brother and Guardian-in-training who seems to be interested in Mary. Mary doesn’t know if she will be happy with Harry, and worries what will happen both if he does choose her, and if he doesn’t. These are Mary’s biggest problems until her mother, while searching for glimpses of her father, goes too close to the fence and is bitten. She becomes infected, and must be sent out into the forest with the other Unconsecrated. Furious with her for allowing this to happen, Mary’s brother Jed disowns her, Harry abandons her, and Mary is forced to live with the Sisterhood, the order of nuns which has sheltered and protected the village since the Return, and also controls all the information and keeps all the secrets about the world outside the fence–and the zombies the fence keeps out.
I thought this was a pretty good zombie book. It was interesting to read a book about how life is going on “after” the zombie apocalypse, instead of during it. I also really liked the way the Sisterhood controlled the town through religion and led everyone to believe they were the last people on Earth. I wish this theme would have been explored more. While Mary is living in the Cathedral with the Sisters, she is overcome with curiosity, and feels she must know what they are hiding, and what’s really out there beyond the fence. But once zombies break through the fence and Mary is forced to flee with her brother and sister-in-law, best friend Cass, a small boy Jacob, her dog Argos, and the two boys who are vying for her affection, all thoughts of the Sisterhood disappear and Mary is simply focused on survival, finding the ocean her mother always told her about, and how she can fulfill her dream of being in love with Travis while being betrothed to Harry. The story warped into a typical YA love triangle. I was much more interested in the secrets the Sisterhood was keeping and why they were keeping them. How did they come to be in charge of this tiny village in the woods? Why do they call the zombies “The Return?” (that really bugged me). Where are they located? Why isn’t anyone else interested in what could be beyond the fence? We never receive answers to any of these questions, all of which I thought were much more intriguing than Harry and Travis.
I went back and forth about whether or not I liked Mary. On one hand, she was a whiny angsty teenager and at times I wanted to smack her and tell her to shut up. On the other hand, she did have a lot of things to whine about, like watching her mother turn into a zombie, and her brother throwing her out of her house. And watching her become obsessed with the outside world and finding the ocean at the expense of everything and everyone around her–basically, her descent into madness–was particularly compelling. The rest of the characters, though, were bland and extremely boring. I have no idea why Mary was so obsessed with Travis, and liked him better than Harry. They sounded to me like the same person. I couldn’t even tell you if they looked different. Towards the end of the book, we finally get a glimpse into the mind of Travis, and find out he is a person with hope at the very least, but still, that’s not much. If so much of the book was going to be spent on that small group and their trying to survive in the forest, I should have felt emotionally attached to all the characters. Instead, I kept finding myself wondering what was happening back in the village, if there were more villages/people out there, and where in the United States they were located.
I picked up this book because a librarian saw me looking at it and strongly recommended it. I did like it, and would recommend it to anyone who likes a good zombie book. Just don’t get too excited about the conspiracy theories. I am intrigued to read the next book (I believe it’s a trilogy) as I would really like to find out what happened to some of the other characters. The second book in the series is called The Dead Tossed Waves and the third book is The Dark and Hollow Places.