Consider this post not just another book review, but an important public service announcement: May is Zombie Awareness Month. Please take the time this month to check on your provisions (remember: knives don't need to be reloaded) and review your escape routes and safety zones with your loved ones.
The Dead-Tossed Waves is the sequel/companion novel to Ryan's Forest of Hands and Teeth, which I didn't review but did summarize a few of my thoughts on here after the Post-Apocalyptic Teen Fiction panel last fall. At this point, I really think my problem with Forest of Hands and Teeth was I wasn't paying attention to the genre: I wanted a straight up horror novel but Ryan was writing post-apocalyptic romance. Since I knew what I was going to get this time around, I found The Dead-Tossed Waves to be much more enjoyable.
The protagonist this time around is Mary's daughter, Gabry, safely living in the town of Vista that Mary stumbled upon at the end of the last novel. Gabry is a bit of a coward, there's no other way to put it. While Mary was constantly wondering what was outside of the chain link fence of her home village, Gabry is terrified to climb over the fence that protects Vista. Unfortunately for Gabry, none of the other teenagers in town feel the same way, and during one excursion over the fence into the abandoned amusement park, tragedy strikes as a Breaker (one of the fast zombies we were introduced to in the first novel) attacks, and Gabry is the only one to escape unscathed before the authorities show up, ready to punish all of the surviving teens for blatantly violating Vista's rules.
Gabry is torn on whether to turn herself in, and her indecision only heightens when she discovers her crush, Catcher, may not have died in the attack after all. Venturing out again on her own, she relies on the help of the mysterious Elias to find her way through the ruins and avoid the suspicions of the authorities who are eager to send the batch of troublemakers off to serve in the army of the Protectorate - a virtual death sentence of zombie fighting. But all the rules and good intentions can't keep Vista safe forever, and before long Gabry finds herself in the same position her mother was in so many years ago: wandering aimlessly through a chain link maze, relying on cryptic letters as a guide, with only the faintest hope that safety lies at the end.
While I did enjoy this more than The Forest of Hands and Teeth, that's not to say this novel is perfect. For one thing, once Gabry and her companions are in the chain link path, I really felt like we'd just been transplanted to the reversed quest from the last book. But the first two thirds of the novel I thought were well done - it's a very introspective novel, and Gabry isn't really a noble protagonist, but it's her imperfections that endeared her to me. She's perfectly fine with the status quo (and while Vista's rules are strict, there are reasons behind them so it doesn't really slide into a Panem-style dystopia, so we don't have to dislike Gabry for not making waves) and she's a little bit of a scaredy cat. But really, when the dead have risen, isn't fear a natural reaction? It's the people who say they aren't afraid that scare me!
I also love, love, love Ryan's compromise between fast and slow zombies. And all of the different names zombies go by. In the last novel they were the Unconsecrated, which made sense considering how religious Mary's village was, and Mary continues to call them by that name (even though everyone thinks she's totally weird for doing so). Normal zombies in Vista are called Mudo, which I don't think is ever actually explained but probably stems from the fact most zombies in the area wash up from the ocean and are thus muddy? (Edit: Sami pointed out in the comments that 'Mudo' was actually explained at the end of the first book - it means speechless.) And then there are the Breakers, which are Ryan's answer to new-school fast zombies versus Romero-style slow zombies. Breakers are a biological evolution in zombies, where an infected person will turn into a Breaker if there aren't enough other zombies around, like how frogs will change their sex if the population isn't appropriately balanced. I thought it was awesome and a great explanation for why, even with a functional government and army in place, they haven't been able to wipe out zombies.
I'm not terribly enamored of the cover on this one, but rather than re-hashing that point, I'm going to direct you to Sami's post at Twisted Quill where her rundown covers most of my objections (and the one objection I had that she didn't list I mention in the comments).