Reading Level: Young Adult
Paperback: 336 pages
Release Date: June 19, 2012
Source: purchased copy
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?
I can’t even begin to describe how much I’ve been looking forward to reading This Is Not a Test. I love post-apocalyptic fiction, especially when it involves zombies, and I had seen a lot of really positive reviews of the book. Truth be told, once I started reading, I wasn’t as entertained & enamored with it as I had hoped to be, but I did (for the most part) enjoy it.
Listen, Courtney Summers can most certainly write well. No question about it. Her prose is beautiful and gritty and emotive. And it’s poetic in just the right amounts & places—never over-the-top; never weighing down the story; never appearing pretentious.
Another positive aspect of This Is Not a Test is its thought-provoking storytelling. There are some heavy, dark topics that are touched upon in this book, and they’re presented in a very honest, realistic way. Human beings can do some incredibly brave, heroic, and awe-inspiring things when forced to fight for survival, but they can also do some terribly selfish, cruel, and irrational things when faced with their own mortality. The book addresses this and forces its characters into dilemmas & situations that illustrate how doing the right thing and making the right choice is not always black & white, and how the very definition of what’s moral or ethical can change (sometimes in the blink of an eye).
I also really appreciated that the romance in this book wasn’t the least bit romantic. To be more precise, it wasn’t about falling madly in love at first sight or finding your predestined soulmate. It was about the need to experience something more than fear & pain—to feel alive and connected to someone else; to lose yourself in a moment of pleasure & happiness and forget (even if just for an instant) the horror waiting outside the door.
Regrettably, the book did hit a few sour notes with me. First off, I never really connected with or came to care about any of the characters. I know that the story was told from Sloane’s perspective and that the group of survivals she joined up with were practically strangers to her; nonetheless, there was plenty of opportunity to flesh them out through their interactions with each other, and I felt that opportunity was wasted. Almost all of the characters aside from Sloane were underdeveloped with one-note, static personalities. They did not change or grow as the story unfolded, which was very disappointing. And in all honesty, I couldn’t even begin to picture any of them in my mind.
As for Sloane, well I didn’t hate her, but I also can’t say that I liked her. I get that Sloane had a harsh, tragic life. I get that she was depressed & lonely. I get that she had learned to keep everyone at arm’s length and that the abuse she lived through left her damaged & hardened. However, I unfortunately thought that Sloan’s characterization veered way too often into Woe Is Me territory and made frequent pits stops over in Angstville. Furthermore, her introspection would at times sound a bit too whiney, too self-absorbed, and too much like a Pity Party. On top of that, Sloane would more than occasionally come off as a cold-hearted bitch. On the plus side, though, she did develop & evolve as the story progressed.
Lastly, I do have to warn you that This Is Not a Test is not an action-packed, zombie-killing adventure. It’s not meant to be. There is nevertheless a good amount of tension & suspense. And despite the story lagging here & there, I was engrossed and eager to continue reading all the way through to the last page.