Author: Courtney Summers
Genre: YA, apocalyptic, zombies
Publication Date: June 19, 2012 (expected)
Summary: 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?
☆: 4/5 – a very intimate look at the internal processes of the end of the world!
Review: Have you ever wondered what the internal processes of the end of the world by zombie apocalypse might ever look like? “The Walking Dead” gives us some idea, but “This Is Not A Test” goes much further than that, giving us almost overwhelming detail into what we might feel as we begin to lose everything around us. It’s not like so many of the apocalyptic novels we’ve come to expect from YA – there is no romance, there is no overbearing government, but there is disaster and need dogging us as the audience at every corner. “This Is Not A Test” is a luminously dark look into the human psyche as all hell breaks loose, and isn’t exactly the feel good book of the year, but it’s a very much needed book all the same.
We see this through the eyes of Sloane, a girl who’s already lost everything and is now waiting for death (or what mimics it) with open arms. She hides with friends/acquaintances in her high school, waiting for either help or the ultimate end of it all to come. Summers does a fantastic job in showing us the internal processes of a girl whose world is so shattered that she already has nothing to lose in such an awful situation, along with need that is so intense that you will probably have to put the book down more than once and walk away just to get yourself back into once piece to continue reading. I know that’s what happened to me – I don’t have that many triggers, but this book hit on my largest one (abandonment) so there were some moments throughout the book where I did have to take a breather before I could keep going.
One thing I did want to see more of was how this disaster got started – it’s good that we start in media res of the entire situation, and it’s also good we have the other members of the cast speculating on what might have happened to cause the dead to rise, but I kind of wanted more external explanation (or at least, backstory) to give us a firmer handhold into this world that Summers created. As for the internal conflict (to keep living during the end of the world or to give in and become a zombie snack), that world was incredibly well-built, and reminded me a lot of “Masque of the Red Death” in how very bleak it was. This isn’t to say that the external conflict/world wasn’t well-built – it was, but up until the last fourth of the novel, the external conflict (omg zombies) wasn’t as present as I would have liked, and doesn’t really kick in until that important last fourth. Hence, not five stars. I wanted more action on the zombie front, and I liked more of a threat than just the pounding on the walls around our characters.
What was great was the ending – it’s so ambiguous, and I’m glad it’s a standalone. We have Sloane contemplating living more seriously than ever before, but at the same time, the temptation of death is literally pounding at her window. The final lines of the book are STILL haunting me, and it’s been days since I finished the book. Sloane’s personal character arc is one of the best I’ve seen in YA in recent years because she seems so contemporary and yet, in the middle of zombies chowing down on everyone around her, so very not. She’s had horrible things done to her, yet she still has the ambivalent question of wanting to live, or maybe not wanting to live, and ping-pongs between the two up until the very end. There was nothing I could really predict or anything I saw coming, and I love it when authors keep me guessing. It seems rare in YA right now and Summers nailed it. She’s not afraid to kill (and zombify) her darlings, so she definitely has my respect on that end.
Those that are looking for a high-action om nom nom zombie story might want to look elsewhere. This is an internal examination of the self at the end of the world, and the zombies are really more at the fringes of things, picking people off, silently asking the question of who’s the bigger monster – the surviving humans? Or the zombies? It’s a question I keep turning over in my head, and I still haven’t quite decided yet.
Final verdict? Definitely give it a read. “This Is Not a Test” is out June 19, 2012 in North America from St. Martin’s Griffin/Macmillan. Be sure to pick up a copy then and tell me what you think.