Last spring, or perhaps it was the year before that, I attended the Loft Literary Center's wonderful weekend convention for writers of children's and young adult novels. The editor from Delacourte Press spoke lovingly about this book. Fast forward to the most recent issue of the Williams alumni review, which featured an interview with Carrie Ryan. Okay, I get it: the book was tracking me! And I'm so glad it did.
This book is hard to put down. It takes place several generations after the zombie apocalypse, though Ryan wisely avoids either of those words. 16 year-old Mary is growing up in a small, traditional village tightly run by the Sisterhood. Their world is surrounded by a fence, and beyond that, the Forest of Hands and Teeth, filled with the Unconsecrated who never sleep and wish only to infect. Mary dreams of seeing the ocean, though everyone else thinks it's a fairy tale. They believe they are the only survivors on earth, and that beyond the fence only death can await them.
I don't know if I would necessarily have picked up this book based on the above plot synopsis, certainly not based on the word "zombie." But, this book is so well written. There's something about the language that is just richer than many of the YAs I've been reading lately, and the action and suspense kept me turning the pages. Ryan's world-building abilities are fantastic. I feel that I'm in the hands of someone very capable, who has imagined every aspect of this world dating back for the last 100 years. This and her sequel The Dead-Tossed Waves are rare YAs that I did not read in a day, partly because they are a bit longer, and partly because I was savoring this world. While I prefer the main character in this book to the sequel, both are very good, and the sequel has so many more surprises that just keep making this world more wonderfully complex. Highly recommended.