June 14, 2012 by Heidi
Title: 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.