Mary, the main character of THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, is fifteen and lives in a village some time in the future. The village is surround by a fence because flesh-hungry zombies, in this story named the Unconsecrated, roam the forest, thus THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH. Mary has lived all her life behind this fence, but is starting to question what is beyond it. Her mother has told her stories that have been handed down through the generations about a large body of water called the ocean. Mary, (I don't it's a coincidence that she shares a name with the mother who gave birth to another religion,) dreams of one day finding this ocean and believes it may be at least one place where the Unconsecrated do not roam.
Another facet of the story early on is the Sisters, the religious body of this village, the educators, and also the makers of the law. They discourage free thought and use God as a tool to make people submit to their rules. It's almost like Mary is Copernicus living in a Ptolemaic Universe. When she talks of one day visiting this ocean, people hush her for fear of the Sisters or dismiss it as a childish fantasy. Without saying too much, the Sisters go as far, at one point, to use scare tactics to try and get Mary to submit to their ways.
I'm not sure if Ms. Ryan is familiar with Plato's allegory of the cave, but I assume having graduated from Duke's School of Law, she has come across it at one point or another. I also got the impression that Mary was the only one in her village with dreams. Everyone else was either too fearful of the Sisters or the Unconsecrated to follow their and appear happy with the Status Quo. There is a real fear in the village of the Sisters.
A blurb from the cover calls it a postapocalyptic romance. There is a little romance between Mary and a boy named Travis, but despite the chaos that surrounds her, she is willing to risk the relationship if it stands in the way of her getting to the ocean.
Her father is killed by the Unconsecrated early on. Her mother goes to the fence and is bitten. It's not clear if she does this intentionally because she misses her husband so badly, but Mary speculates, I wonder now, if she (her mother) didn't leave because of us. Because of Jed (her brother) and me. But in my heart I know that's not the case. She didn't leave in search of the ocean because of my father. Because he was enough for her. Enough to keep her snug within the fences her entire life.
I love that passage and sums up, for me, why Mary will never be happy with Travis or anyone else in her village. She needs to follow her dreams. She's willing to risk everything, her love and even her life, for a world that is not dominated by the Sisters or the Unconsecrated.
I love this book. Can't wait to read the second one. And would highly recommend it to any serious reader.