Mary learns that there is more to the world than what is protected within the fence that surrounds her village, a fence that both protects the villagers from the virus-infected zombies beyond but also closes them off from freedom. Mary's Mother talks about the mythical ocean but all Mary sees beyond the fence of her village is the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Mary's father has disappeared into the Forest, leaving her mother a shadow of the person she used to be. Her mother is convinced that her father will return one day and that he has found another protected enclave to take refuge in but Mary and her brother, Jed, think their father is lost to the Unconsecrated - the ones that have become zombies.
The story starts with Mary being asked to the Harvest Celebration by Harry, who is her sister-in-law's brother. In Mary's village, everyone is encouraged to find a mate and have children to ensure the continuation of the enclave. Mary is uncertain about her feelings towards Harry - she has a crush on another boy, Travis, but that boy doesn't seem to pay attention to her so she settles with Harry. But before she can really answer, the sirens of the village sound. Mary knows this means there is a breach in the fence and the Unconsecrated have broken in. During these times, everyone must get up to a tree refuge and pull up the ladders until the breach is controlled. Mary looks for a tree refuge however most of the ladders have already been pulled up. Later on, Mary finds out that her mother had strayed too close to the fence and was slashed by an Unconsecrated. Her mother is now infected and Mary has two options, either kill her mother or let her Mother become an Unconsecrated. Her mother ends up choosing to become Unconsecrated. Mary waits with her mother until her mother turns into an Unconsecrated and is released beyond the fence.
After this event, the Sisterhood take Mary to the Cathedral where she is isolated for a few days. Later on, she finds out that she will become a member of the Sisterhood herself because no one has spoken for her, not even Harry. Mary is unwilling to join the Sisterhood so they lead her down a tunnel that leads back to a small patch of land that is enclosed by a fence. They lock Mary out there, mere inches away from the Unconsecrated who pound and rake at the fence inches away. Mary is terrified and the Sisterhood scare her into willingly joining them and praising God.
One day, Travis is injured and brought to the Cathedral to be nursed. During the time Mary is caring for Travis, Travis' girlfriend, Cass comes to visit along with Harry. Harry sees that Mary is in love with Travis. During the time she nurses Travis, she and Travis build a relationship. One night, Mary, runs out and sees footsteps outside the fence that don't look like the shuffling footsteps of the Unconsecrated. The footsteps come from the forest and enter the village. Mary knows that the Sisterhood are hiding an Outsider. She now knows that there is a world outside the village and she plans on going out there. Over the next few days, however, she hears nothing about an Outsider. She finds out that the Sisterhood is keeping the Outsider, named Gabrielle, a secret because she is disrupting the rules of the village. Mary knows that in reality, the Sisterhood want to maintain their power over the citizens of the village and they don't want the villagers yearning to leave because there might be a chance of other villagers out there. She finally finds out where the Sisterhood is keeping Gabrielle and briefly befriends her.
The love triangle between Mary, Harry, Travis and Cass becomes more complicated. The Sisterhood are involved in causing the angst because they assign partners for everyone and they had assigned Mary to Harry when Mary loved Travis and Travis to Cass when Cass loved Harry. Even though Mary is married to Harry, she still meets with Travis illicitly. One day, Mary sees Gabrielle - she has become an Unconsecrated but an unnaturally fast one one. Mary is shocked and suspects the Sisterhood may have condemned her to that fate. Mary and Harry are married, even though Harry knows that Mary doesn't really love him. Mary becomes more and more obsessed about Gabrielle and the place she might have come from, the place outside the village where there might even be an ocean.
One night, the alarm sounds - Gabrielle has entered the village along with other Unconsecrated. The village is overrun and Mary and Harry manage to get out onto a gated path. Travis and Cass join them. They decide to continue down the path. Later on, they are joined by Jed and his wife, who tell them that there are little to no survivors and there is no turning back, the village is gone. Jed's wife is bitten and Jed must kill his wife. Everyone follows the gated paths, following mysterious numbers that are marked on each gate. Some of the paths lead to dead ends and they have to backtrack. Many times, the group debate over whether they should go back to the village. Finally, they follow one of the paths to another village. They get inside a house just in time before Unconsecrated begin appearing, indicating this village was also overrun. Over the time of the trip, Mary and Travis are allowed to love each other. They communicate with Harry and the rest of the group who have found refuge in another home.
Mary and Travis know that their time in the house is limited because the Unconsecrated are starting to break through and enter the home. More than ever, Mary wants to travel to the ocean. One day, the Unconsecrated break in and Mary and Travis have to escape the house. Mary climbs up a ladder to safety. Travis, because he is injured is unable to climb up the ladder. Mary has to come back down and together they fight off the Unconsecrated until everyone has gotten up the ladder safely. Mary is unsure whether she or Travis are infected but they both make a plan to somehow reach Harry and his group in the other house. They swing a rope over to Harry's house. Mary makes it safely over however the rope loosens and Travis almost doesn't make it.
One day a fire causes Mary and her group to have to go on the move again. In the process, Travis sacrifices himself to get the Unconsecrated away and let them escape. He reveals to Mary that he had been infected many days before and he was a dead man anyway. Mary is heartbroken. Eventually, Mary makes it to the Ocean where there is another community.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like that Carrie Ryan took an interesting approach on how to survive during a zombie apocalypse - by building houses in the trees.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when Mary and Travis spent some nice alone time together in the house before the Unconsecrated break through.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that Mary has a dream to see the ocean and she's not afraid to pursue that dream.