Caroline the Future Librarian

Caroline Davis | LIBR 265-10 | SJSU | Wrenn-Estes

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Date: February 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0385736824

Plot Summary: Mary has never known anything but the fenced-in village where she grew up, where guards protect them from the Unconsecrated that dwell in the surrounding forest, but when she was a child her mother used to tell her about the ocean, stories passed down from her many-greats-grandmother.  A vast expanse of water where she can be safe from the Unconsecrated seems unbelievable to Mary, especially with her father missing and likely turned.  When her mother becomes Infected, her brother Jed, a Guardian, can’t help but blame Mary for not protecting their mother, so she is sent to stay with the Sisterhood in the Cathedral, where she learns that an Outsider has entered the village, a girl named Gabrielle.  When a new, fast Unconsecrated appears outside their fences, Mary knows that Gabrielle has been turned, and when the village is breached she sets out with Jed and his pregnant wife, Beth, her best friend, Cassandra, a young boy named Jacob, and brothers Travis and Harry, one of whom she loves and the other she is promised to wed, along paths through the forest that she knows must lead to other safe villages, and perhaps even to the ocean.

Critical Evaluation: With the current wave of interest in zombie books and films, Ryan set out to tell a story that few others had – not of the zombie apocalypse, but of life generations and generations after The Return, as she calls it.  The first in a projected trilogy (the sequel, The Dead-Tossed Waves, has just been released in hardcover), The Forest of Hands and Teeth is set in a very grim society, ruled by the devote Sisterhood.  When their very existence is so fragile, even the teenagers must act like adults, so it is normal for Mary to think about her upcoming marriage to Harry, which is called the Binding.  She is a character that thinks things through (the first-person narration of the book keeps the reader privy to her thoughts) and when her life becomes endangered, she takes action to protect herself and those she loves.  The heavy use of vernacular in the novel (terms like Unconsecrated, Guardians, Binding) are not difficult to understand but serve continually remind the reader that this world is unlike our own.  The ending doesn’t answer all of our questions, leaving it for the next two books to address.  Forest was selected as a Best Book for Young Adults by YALSA.

Reader’s Annotation: Mary’s life in the village has always been safe, with the Unconsecrated on the other side of a guarded fence, but when the village is invaded she must set out with her brother and friends to seek out other safe havens, and possibly even the ocean she has always dreamed of seeing.

Author Information: A native of Greenville, South Carolina, Carrie Ryan graduated from Williams College and Duke University School of Law and spent a few years as a litigator before quitting to write full time.  After a failed attempt to break into the chick lit market, her fiancé encouraged her to write what she loved and she began writing a young adult novel about zombies.

When asked where she gets her inspiration, Ryan says, “Anything and everything. The first line of The Forest of Hands and Teeth came to me after I read an article about the possibility of overfishing tuna. The issue of collective memory came to me when I realized how my memories of my grandmother have been slipping away and how I can’t remember the details of the stories she used to tell over and over again.” (Source)

Genre: Horror

Curriculum Ties: None

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Are the Sisterhood ultimately successful at protecting the village or are they responsible for the invasion?
2) Compare Mary’s relationships with Travis and Harry.
3) Why do you think Travis chooses to stay with Cass if he reciprocates Mary’s love?
4) How does the ocean that Mary dreams of compare to the reality?

Interest Age: 14 and older

Challenge Issues: some gruesome details, violence, mild sexuality

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and others available for viewing on

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: This book was suggested to me months ago by a coworker when it was still only available in hardcover.  Now that it has been released in paperback, it is a young adult bestseller in our bookstore.


Carrie Ryan’s website and blog.

Book Trailer for The Forest of Hands and Teeth:


April 14, 2010 - Posted by | Books |


  1. I LOVED IT….. But I do have some questions..
    1. What happened to Cass,Harry,and the little boy… Now I didn’t read the series so hopefully it says something about that.
    2. WHY DID TRAVIS HAVE TO DIE????? I could really feel how Mary felt. I was crying…
    3. Did Jed really die.. or she just couldn’t find him?

    I am looking foward to your other books.
    I loved this book
    kepp it up….
    That could be really awesome if you could email me ❤ YOU ROCK
    I dont read that much but when I had to get a book for a book report, I thought yours looked interesting. Now I am willing to read more of your books!
    -Jessica (12)

    Comment by jessica | April 12, 2011 | Reply

    • Hi Jessica,

      I’m glad you loved the book! The next two books are both out now – “The Dead-Tossed Waves” and “The Dark and Hollow Places” – and they might have the answers to some of your questions!

      I am not the author, but if you do want to contact Carrie Ryan, her email address is I’m sure she would love to hear from you! You should also check out her website:


      Comment by Caroline | April 12, 2011 | Reply

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