Set in an apocolyptic future, a small village holds out against zombies (called the Unconsecrated). A religious organization called The Sisterhood controls all administration, while the Guardians maintain the fences and fend off the Unconsecrated attacks. The outside of the fence is called the Forest of Hands and Teeth.
The Sisterhood teaches that this tiny outpost is the last home and hope of humanity. A girl named Mary has been told stories by her mother of an ocean where other people live in safety, but this is dismissed by the Sisterhood as heresy.
Anyone bitten by an Unconsecrated will become a zombie and attack the living, so victims are either killed before they can turn or are thrown outside the fence just as they turn. Mary's father disappeared months ago and is assumed to be an Unconsecrated now. As the story opens, Mary's mother has wandered too close to the fence and is bitten. She is slowly dying and Mary can't bring herself to kill her, so they wait for her to die and throw her out.
The village has a formal process for courting. Mary is at the age where she either must find a partner or join the Sisterhood. She is in love with Travis but he selects someone else. His brother Harry is proposing to Mary when her mother is attacked. He never follows through, so without other options she joins the Sisterhood.
She winds up nursing Travis when he is badly injured and pines for what could have been. However, Sister Tabitha has been watching and assigns her elsewhere. She discovers that a visitor has arrived in the middle of the night and was taken in by the Sisters, but no one else has been notified. She manages to make eye contact with the visitor once, and noses around trying to reach her to find out what she nows. Then she realizes that the visitor is being kept in seclusion because her existence contradicts the Sisterhood's claim that they are the only group of survivors. When she disappears Mary presumes she has been thrown out to the Unconsecrated to dispose of her. A few days later there is a new zombie that is much faster and agile than the others, who Mary recognizes as the visitor.
Unexpectedly Harry shows up and now wants to marry her. Sister Tabitha wants to get rid of her and approves the arrangement. She accepts but would still rather be with Travis. Travis' fiancee would rather be with Harry but won't buck the system. The night before the wedding is the last chance for anyone to back out, but before that can happen the zombies attack in force. The village is essentially destroyed. The rest of the story follows the few survivors as they flee in search of safety; the herd is culled through attrition. The ending is abrupt and apparently intended to set up a sequel.
The author did a good job of setting the background information on the story. There were also some well written scenes, such as Sister Tabitha taking Mary through the cellars and the survivors going through the possessions in the safe house they find. It also shows the emotional trauma people face knowing that their loved ones will shortly be turning against them.
My biggest problem was that Mary seemed to be a bit of a superficial heroine. She whines about how she loves Travis, but when she gets a chance to have him she is more interested in searching for the ocean. She puts herself at risk by intentionally getting close to the zombies just so she can look for someone. She is also impetuous, going off on her own instead of staying with the group.