This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

When I first heard that Courtney Summers, an author known for her contemporary novels exploring tough issues, was writing a zombie apocalypse book I sorta scratched my head and had to reread the synopsis of This is Not a Test again. Sure enough zombie apocalypse. Really? At first I assumed it was another YA author jumping on the bandwagon, but really, it's Courtney Summers we're talking about here. The woman is an absolute genius with a pen and never does anything halfway so I figured I better give her latest a shot. 

One moment Sloane is worried about being punished for being late to breakfast (her dad is not a nice man at all) when pandemonium breaks out and the world ends. No joke. As she is swept up in a group of six kids who have barricaded themselves into Cortege High School against their friends and family turned zombies, Sloane doesn't know how long she can pretend. Because the morning the world ended for everybody else, Sloane had tried to end her own life. And just how does she expect herself to keep going when all she wants to do is give up?

This is Not a Test is NOT AT ALL what I've come to expect in your typical zombie book. That said, it is (for the most part) what I've come to expect from a Courtney Summers novel. First of all, this story is really a contemporary novel exploring the issues of life and death and family drama with a side of zombies thrown in to keep things interesting. If by interesting you mean bloody and run for your life. Which I do.

Courtney Summers is fantastic at exploring family drama without making you feel like you're watching a soap opera. While exploration of Sloane's terrible relationship with her abusive father and the abandonment of her sister are at the forefront, we also get a glimpse at the tight bond between Trace and Grace, twins who Sloane used to hang out with. I'm not sure why, but their relationship killed me folks. Watching them deal with loss and anger and forgiveness was a sight. But really, every single character and every single relationship was complicated and raw but still detailed with such haunting clarity.

I think the one point that
This is Not a Test utterly blows away every other young adult zombie apocalypse/end-of-the-world book is that this book doesn't just focus on the here and now; the physical and emotional turbulence of surviving such destruction. Sure, such problems are explored -- how to get food and water, finding shelter, whom to trust -- but This is Not a Test goes one step further (maybe I should say back?) by focusing on the past. In Sloane's case, her internal turmoil stems from something that happened a few months prior, when things were supposedly normal. Not because life as everyone knew it ended. For her, the world didn't end when zombies attacked that morning, it had already ended months ago. She had been ready to give up for weeks and now the prospect of trying to survive seemed pointless. Really, this isn't a novel concept when you look at Ms. Summers' previous books, but for this genre, it's nothing short of groundbreaking. Well played indeed.

Still not sure? Read this first chapter here.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
The Book Smugglers review
Bunbury in the Stacks review
Chick Loves Lit review
Good Books & Good Wine review
Presenting Lenore review

book source: review copy from the publisher


Heidi said...

Great review! I agree with you 100%, this was more about the raw emotions of the characters dealing with what had happened than your average survival in the time of zombies book. I loved how powerful this book was, and it's completely convinced me to read Summers' backlog, even though I'm not huge on contemp.

April (BooksandWine) said...

YES! Well-played by Ms. Summers. I totally scratched my head when I heard the concept for This Is Not A Test and assumed it would be stupid, but it actually ended up being a pretty great read with all the hallmarks, like you said, of a regular Summers' novel.

Holly said...

I finished this last week and while I'm not sure if it's my favorite Summers novel (that position still belongs to Some Girls Are), but I liked the relationships in this one and the zombie slant.