Jul 27, 2012
Title: This is Not a Test
Author: Courtney Summers
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication Date: June 19, 2012
Source: From Publisher For Review
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?
Also true story: I once had a dream that me, a friend/fellow Courtney Summers fan, and Courtney Summers were competing on a reality TV show. Courtney Summers was kicking ass and I wanted to cry because I didn’t know how she was doing so well on all the challenges and I wanted to win so badly. When I woke up, being the writer that I am and having taken, like, three psychology classes (which totally qualifies me to psychoanalyze anything and everything), I determined that this dream was a realization of my subconscious inferiority complex (writer-wise) next to Courtney Summers.
I have a love/hate relationship with Courtney Summers novels. Not through any fault of the author/novels, mind you. It’s just that every time I read a Courtney Summers novel I’m stunned by its brilliance and I end up putting it down after the first or second page and thinking “well, this is everything I wish to be and more as a writer so I might as well give up all aspirations now and live life as a hermit or something.” And then I get over myself and pick up the book again and finish it in one sitting and love it and love it and love it.
So if you’re thinking I’m going to have anything negative to say about THIS IS NOT A TEST . . . mmmno. Not a chance. (In fact, I keep looking over at my copy of the book and getting this little thrill over the fact that I even own it . . . mostly because the cover is as stunning as the novel itself and, seriously, have you seen it? The cover is perfect and perfectly reflects the novel.)
When I heard that Courtney Summers was writing a zombie novel, I remember being shocked and amazed and then so so so excited. If anyone could write the perfect zombie novel (in my opinion) then that was Courtney Summers. No pressure or anything. My perfect zombie novel is a novel that focuses not on the action of running away and killing zombies but that focuses on HOW running away and killing zombies and, you know, the general end of the world thing really effects characters on a deep and personal level. Which, in case you couldn’t tell, is exactly what Summers does.
Courtney Summers is a master at creating dynamic characters with real struggles and real emotions and real responses. Somehow, Summers manages to make the most aggravating (*cough* Harrison), maddening (*cough* Trace) characters . . . sympathetic. Even the narrator Sloane, who spends the whole book wanting to leave the other five teens to kill herself. I was never once annoyed with these characters because they were so well written that I could understand their motivations. I think it takes a talented writer to take broken characters like the six teens in the book trapped in the high school and make them sympathetic instead of overwhelmingly angsty. I don’t know how she does it. Writers, take note: anyone who wants to learn how to write fully developed, heart-breaking characters you can’t help but feel for needs to take a page from Summers’ book. (Really, that’s what I do. Any book where I love the characters I read once for the story and twice to study how the characters are developed.)
Throughout the entire book I just wanted to give these characters a big hug and tell them everything was going to be okay but I couldn’t do that so I had to settle for hugging the book when I was done instead.
And the plot was great, too. The zombies were sufficiently creepy and threatening and they definitely kept me anxious the entire book, even if we don’t actually see them all that much. Even if the six teens weren’t getting attacked by zombies every other page (thank goodness because that could get tedious), the zombies still had a profound effect on them. Summers did an amazing job of showing how a traumatic situation can really change people.
I also loved the “romance” in the book. One of the things I admire about Summers is her ability to put in a romantic element in her novels without having it there just for the sake of having it there. Does that make sense? A lot of YA books seem to throw in romance because that seems to be the thing to do, which I’m not saying is always a bad thing. But in Summers’s novels, THIS IS NOT A TEST included, the “romantic” elements really serve a purpose and really seem organic in the circumstances.
Okay, I could go on and on about what I love about this book. I love Summers’s mastery of language, I love the subtleties in the writing, I love how the zombies and the whole end of the world thing is used to explore the problems in the characters’ lives, I love how hopeless it feels but then somehow infuses these little moments of hopefulness that keeps you going. I just love this book. Period.
I think everyone needs to read it. Right now. Even if you think you don’t like zombies, you need to read it. If you love contemporary books, you need to read it. If you love zombie books, you need to read it. If you love books, you need to read it. I think I’ve said enough. Are you reading it yet?