Review: This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers


June 14, 2012 by Heidi

book cover of This Is Not a Test by Courtney SummersTitle: This Is Not a Test [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Courtney Summers [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: Standalone *throws confetti*.
Genre: Young Adult, Horror, Apocalyptic
Published: June 19th, 2012 by St. Martin’s Griffin
Format: Kindle edition; 320 pages
Source: ARC from publisher via NetGalley.

“This is not a test. Listen closely. This is not a test.” But I think she’s wrong. I think this is a test. It has to be.

Unlike the rest of her town, Sloane woke up that morning knowing she was going to die.  She was prepared, ready, she wanted to be gone.  However, it wasn’t Sloane that died that day, it was everyone else.

While Sloane sits at the breakfast table with her father, attempting not to draw attention, a pounding comes on their door.  Outside a woman’s voice is screaming for help, and soon they realize the town is overrun with the walking dead.  Cut to one week later, Sloane and five other teens make it to the high school where they barricade themselves in, hoping to survive until help arrives.  They’ve been through hell in the last week, everything they know is changed or gone.  Being trapped in a high school with the dead outside isn’t all that different from being trapped on a desert island, or a victim of a psychological prison experiment.  As time passes, it isn’t enough to just be alive, they all need to account for what’s happened since the world fell apart.

This Is Not a Test may have been the perfect blend of the contemporary and the other for me.  When it was initially announced that Courtney Summers’ next book would not be a contemporary, many fans were shocked.  But after having read it, to say that This Is Not a Test isn’t a contemporary read would be an untruth.  This Is Not a Test holds all of the elements of a contemporary issue book, but in a raw and savage way, incorporating elements of horror to fool those of us who shy away from issue books into thinking it’s for us.  And let me tell you, it worked.  I gobbled up every bit of Sloane’s story, and held my breath for the end in a way I never would have if it weren’t the zombie apocalypse.  Then, when it’s all over, I can look back and think ‘that really wasn’t about zombies at all, was it?’  You got me Courtney Summers, you hear me?!  You got me!

This Is Not a Test is psychologically grating.  From the jarring reality that we’re seeing the apocalypse from the eyes of a girl who wishes it’d been her, to the blood splattered pages that remind us of the horror every time we start feeling a little too comfortable behind thick walls and barricaded doors.  It doesn’t take long to grasp the notion that Sloane was planning to kill herself the day the dead walked.  Her big sister, her only protector, ran away and left her to die at the hands of their father, an evil man with a heavy hand.  She doesn’t want to go on, she’s even convinced at first that she’s taken the pills and all of the horror is a nightmare, but when she realizes it’s real, it’s too late.  Sloane can’t tell Cary, Rhys, or the others that she doesn’t want to survive like they do.  She goes along with them, not thinking they’d make it so far, but they do.  How do you tell the people who have struggled every minute to survive and seen so much death that you wish you hadn’t made it?  That you still wish it.  Particularly when you’re not the only one around with baggage.  Grace views Sloane as strong, but Sloane knows it’s just apathy that leaves her so unaffected.  Grace has her brother at her side, a real reason to survive.  Sloane has nothing.

They are a group of six high school students that make it into the school.  The community center, the designated emergency shelter, was the first to fall.  They were lucky to make it so far, but the fact that they are six kids with no adults is a glaring reminder that not everyone was so lucky.  Or maybe, the lucky ones died first.  Cary has done his best to keep the group alive, but clearly his decisions have not been of renowned popularity with siblings Trace and Grace (okay I just now realized these siblings have the same name but one letter and am twitching).  Harrison, the freshman, keeps losing it and crying, and Rhys has definitely seen too much.  They all have.  As the No Exit mentality of their situation sets in on them, it becomes a question of who or what will tear them apart first–the zombies, or one another.

This Is Not a Test was a powerful contemporary novel masquerading excellently as horror.  As with all of the best horror, it was the psychology of the big picture that really drove into your brain and made shivers run down your spine.  The ending was perfect, the cover chilling, and the story astoundingly real.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  Probably?  I’m not a huge contemp reader, but I enjoyed this one enough that I’m interested in checking out Courtney Summers previous work.  If she continues to do other stuff like This Is Not a Test in the future, most certainly.

Recommended for:  Those looking for a different take on a contemporary issue book, particularly the issues of suicide and physical abuse.  Anyone who enjoys horror, particularly zombies—this is my second favorite zombie read yet (after World War Z, and let’s face it, nothing’s going to beat that).

Real life repercussions of reading this book:  To everyone who recommended I read this one in an attempt to beat the YA slump: thank you.  It was a wonderful choice, it didn’t have any of the pitfalls that had been driving me mad, and I breezed through it without a single eye roll.

Get a second opinion:
The Readventurer
The Nocturnal Library
Good Books and Good Wine
The Reading Housewives
Chick Loves Lit


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  1. Have all of you people conspired against me?! Tell the truth, youre doing this on purpose! I am also one of those people who shy away from issue books, and that’s what Courtney Summers’ name means to me, which is why I’ve stayed away despite all the glowing reviews. BUT, you people insist on trying to talk me into it, and now I finally have to give in. Next, I’ll read this next.
    Wonderful review, Heidi! *death glare* 😀

    • Heidi says:

      Muahahaha, yay! Yes, it IS a conspiracy against those of us who shy away from ISSUE books. Seriously. I hate most issue books. But this one totally got me! It was so well balanced and carefully constructed, I hope that like me you won’t even really notice the issue aspect till you’re done. =)

  2. Love this review, Heidi. :) I’m not a huge contemporary reader either, but Courtney Summers is one of my favorites. I’m so glad this got you out of your slump. What’s up next? Seraphina?

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Catie! Yep! Seraphina’s up next. It’s the last of the three suggested that I have to get to. I LOVED Daughter of the Forest, and This Is Not a Test was awesome. I read it entirely in lines at BEA/on the train, and was sucked in to the point that I often forgot what line I was in anyway. Really looking forward to Seraphina, I’m sure I’m going to love it.

  3. janicu says:

    Ohhh, this is about zombies. For some reason I was confusing this with another contemporary YA about some shooter at a school. Mmm, yup, zombies PLUS the heroine wanting to be dead would be tough for me.

    • Heidi says:

      It was really interesting how Courtney Summers was able to make my sympathize with someone who was suicidal. I usually get very angry at these characters, like Hannah from Thirteen Reasons Why who I just hated. But yes! This is a zombie book. A real Night of the Living Dead type zombie book too, so if those two things hold zero appeal for you, this may not be the right choice.

  4. When I first heard that this book is not about zombies, I was sad. Haha, I love a good zombie book, but after seeing several reviews, I fell in love with this concept. It sounds SO good, I can’t wait to get this one in my hands. Thanks for your review, it was nice and informative ^^

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks! It IS a zombie book, but very different than your normal zombie book. At the same time, that difference doesn’t make the zombies less scary, which I loved (I’m not a big fan of the zombie romance ideas that we’ve seen in the past couple of years). I hope that you enjoy this one when you get your hands on it!

  5. Zombie books are kind of hit or miss with me, probably my least fave of all the paranormal’s, but because you say this book is really more of a contemporary, I may just give it a try. I used to say that books that dealt w/ suicide weren’t my thing either, but I have read a few contemp’s lately (Like Saving June by Hannah Harrington) that focus on suicide that I really enjoyed.

    I’m glad I read your review Heidi. it definitely made me rethink whether or not I want to read this book:)

    • Heidi says:

      I’m glad, Heather! It really is a zombie book for readers who aren’t into zombies. I’m amazed at how well she did it. For me, I’m not huge into contemp, so it was more a contemp book for people who weren’t really into contemp. Either way, it worked great! I haven’t read Saving June yet, but really want to, particularly since I’ve heard such marvelous things and the sequel is coming out soon.

  6. “This Is Not a Test holds all of the elements of a contemporary issue book, but in a raw and savage way, incorporating elements of horror to fool those of us who shy away from issue books into thinking it’s for us.”

    UH, YES EXACTLY. I loved This is Not a Test – it’s totally perfect for people who love contemporary and hardcore don’t love contemporary, you know? Seriously, what a great review, Heidi!

    Although I will shake you until you lik contemporary!

  7. Amanda says:

    I have yet to read any zombie apocalypse books. I know – there are so many out there. But I haven’t heard of any zombie books actually being told through the perspective of the supernatural beings – zombies in this case. In general I’ve preferred my supernatural to be concrete characters rather than simply plot devices. I’ve read this article (I think in The Writer magazine, but I can’t recall exactly) that zombie books (and apparently other kinds of supernatural books) basically function to force us to think about humanity and human interactions in the face of terrible events. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. Reading your review made me think that maybe it is a clever way for authors like Courtney Summers to address contemporary issues. Excellent review, as always. I think I may just have to add this to my TBR list and get past my inability to read zombie books. :)

    • Heidi says:

      Thank, Amanda. I do agree that many supernatural creatures are plot devices used in order to get us to think about humanity and what it means, take Frankenstein for example, one of the first such major horror novels. To me, this is how a line can be drawn between supernatural books and science fiction–both make excellent commentaries on our world. There have been books told from zombie perspectives, or those that treat them more as humans, but I’ve avoided them because to me they contradict with what that being is in my mind.

      Courtney Summers used This Is Not a Test to breach contemporary issues wonderfully, especially for those of us who need/like some sort of other plot device there to work as some sort of allegory.

  8. Holly says:

    Since I’ve really enjoyed Courtney Summers contemporary – and I’m not averse to the occasion zombie in my fiction – I think, as I’ve hoped, that I’ll really like this. Thanks for the thoughtful review! Now if I can just finagle myself a copy…

    • Heidi says:

      Haha, if I’d had a physical copy, I’d send it to you! Though I suppose it’s out now anyway. I hope you do end up liking it Holly, if you’ve liked her previous work, I’m sure you will. =)

  9. Michelle says:

    I just got this one as I adore Coutney Summers’ other books – all are pretty meaty reads so I’m glad to hear she continues in that vein with this one. I’m excited to pick it up now!

    • Heidi says:

      Yay! I’m glad to hear it, Michelle. I really don’t think past fans of her work will be disappointed in the change of pace whatsoever.

  10. What is this I see about you licking contemporary? Geez these comments are dirty.

    ANYWAYS omg you need to read Courtney Summers’ other books. She doesn’t play it cheap like some other writers, when she cuts to your soul it’s REAL not gimmicky crap. I love her writing.

    Also, I think I loved This Is Not A Test because it’s basically contemporary masquerading as a zombie book.

    Love this review, it’s so thoughtful, I am kind of a lot jealous of it.

    • Heidi says:

      Haha, thanks, April! I agree 100%, it’s totally a contemporary book pretending to be a zombie book, and that makes it pretty fantastic. I’m kind of afraid to read her other books because, you know, FEELINGS, but this one was so fantastic I think I need to suck it up and do it anyway.

  11. Jasmine Rose says:

    Man, I cannot wait to get my hands on this book. Seriously and for reals. Zombies are my jam. I love the gory ones, the nightmarish ones, and especially, the the beautiful, heartbreaking ones. This is Not a Test pretty much sounds like the best zombie book ever.
    Great review 😀

    • Heidi says:

      Yes! If you love all of those things, you will LOVE this book. It is beautiful and heartbreaking and gory and nightmarish, and the perfect balance of all of these things. I couldn’t recommend it more to be honest.

  12. Not that I want to take credit or anything but I believe I suggested you read this…:-P I really want to- it looks completely awesome. I LOVE the cover and the psychological aspect x

    • Heidi says:

      You DID suggest it. It was the perfect suggestion too, seriously. Perfect for beating the YA slump, the cover is AWESOME, and when you read the actual books there’s blood splatter all over many of the pages which is so richly disturbing.

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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.