This is Not a Test
June 19th 2012
St Martin's Griffin
It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?
You can officially put me down as a fan of Courtney Summers's books. This is Not a Test is, like, probably one of the most perfect books for me. I love zombie apocalypses. I love claustrophobic survival stories. I love fraught teen drama. I love EMOTIONS. This book has all of those things, and with Summers's spare prose and mastery of all things dark and teen, it's pretty much amazing. Some people thought that the combination of her style, which is really suited to contemporary, didn't really work that well with the added zombie aspect, but I thought that they blended together really well.
That being said, for the first, say, 3/4 of This in Not a Test, it feels less like a zombie book than it does a tense claustrophobic teen drama. It's a bit like The Breakfast Club, but if instead on only being in school one day for detention, their trapped inside for an indefinite amount of time for fear that they're going to be killed by zombies. It's like The Breakfast Club meets Lord of The Flies meets zombies, basically. And if that doesn't sound awesome to you, I don't understand you.
I think that this was the thing that made me want to read this particular zombie/apocalypse book out of all the others out there (of which there are quite a few, which is kind of great because post-apocalyptic stuff is awesome and I love it unless it does that think like dystopian and paranormal where there is just too much and all of it is the same and blah). Also, the fact that in this book, the main character wanted to die even before the zombies happened, because I just knew that it was going to be different and emotional. And, despite everything, I really liked Sloane. She's had a pretty shitty life so far, as her father abused her and her older sister, and then her older sister bails on her, leaving her alone with their father. And then the zombie apocalypse happens, which is awful and terrible and traumatic, and despite all of this, Sloane finds a bunch of people from her school and goes with them and ends up hiding out in her high school. Six teenagers living together in a closed space obviously leads to lots of tension, of all sorts, and there are lots of twists and emotional revelations about this group of people, which I am not going to talk about in detail because spoilers, but it's all good. Well, bad for them. But good to read about.
Ultimately, the thing that I liked most about This is Not a Test was seeing all of the groups reasons for surviving, and how they sort of change over the course of the book as their situation changed. Sloane's emotional arc of her sort of finding a reason to survive and carry on through was the most interesting because she is the main character and because I love important emotional arcs in apocalypse situations (seriously, that ending was so good, and her letter to Lily was so beautiful and ugh), but I really liked getting to know these five other people over the course of the book, too. It's kind of hard to pick and choose favourites out of the group because generally people in dire apocalypse situations are not the nicest, but I really got to care for all of the characters, even when they were dicks. Again, it's the zombie apocalypse, I think that we can forgive them that.
I liked the ending, but I did feel like it was a little bit rushed. We spent all this time in the high school getting to know all these characters and it's kind of slow, but the good kind of slow, and then suddenly it's like BAMBAMBAMENDING. But, it did have kind of a nice symmetry to the beginning and I liked that. And I appreciate the fact that, as I've said about a million times in this review, it is the zombie apocalypse and sometimes when you're being chased by zombies you do not have the time to piss about having emotional revelations, you just have to run the heck away. And I will also say that, just as a zombie book on the whole, I kind of liked the fact that it wasn't about figuring out what had happened or trying to stop the apocalypse. It was about surviving it. And it's great to read zombie books about heroes who go out and unintentionally find themselves in the situation where they have to do those things, but at the same time, it's nice to not read a zombie book with exactly the same plot as all the rest of them.
Overall, I thought that This is Not a Test was a powerful book, and is probably the zombie book that I would give to people to read who maybe are not the biggest fan of zombie books. Though the zombies, when they were in it, were pretty creepy and scary and I actually felt more tense and scared reading this than I have reading an apocalypse book for ages (it was my Halloween book). It checked most of the boxes for being an awesome book for me, and I can't guarantee that you'll like it as much as I did, but if you like Courtney Summers and/or zombies, I would recommend this book to you.