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Monday, July 2, 2012

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Release Date: June 19, 2012
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Age Group: Young Adult
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Pages: 322
Buy: Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound
Description: Goodreads
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?

This is Not a Test isn't a novel for the faint-hearted. It's a gritty depiction of primal survival instinct. People change when survival is on the line, and when there's not much left worth fighting for they'll do things they never thought they were capable of doing.

Six people who've spent years living on the outskirts of each others lives are now trapped together, barricaded inside their high school, facing down the end of the world. Their weak ties are just strong enough to bind them in the moment, in the most far-fetched hope of survival. They cling to each other, to memories, to the remnants of life and the hope that there's still a future to be had.

This is a tough review for me to write because the concept had me hooked from the beginning, but it turns out I was more in love with the idea than the finished product. Solid as the elements are, they never gelled for me.

Told fits and spurts of thought and action, Courtney Summers captures the story of these teenagers in a series of intense moments. Summers storytelling and ability to convey complex thoughts and emotions in beautiful, concise, and poignant phrases are probably my absolute favorite things about this novel. It made for a quick read and only after I finished each chapter was I able to appreciate how much had "happened" in those few pages.

Sadly, the blending of genres wasn't as seamless as I'd hoped it would be. All the pieces were there. A people driven story full of need, regret and imperfection. A grisly, brutal world in which self-preservation is paramount. The problem was I felt more time was spent balancing the genre and contemporary elements than crafting a cohesive story.

I spent a lot of time wondering, "why zombies?" I have no problem with zombies. In fact, I've been reading a lot of them lately. I just couldn't grasp why that had to be what caused these teenagers to be trapped together.   From early on you know the zombie apocalypse is nigh, but then you go 200-plus pages without seeing another zombie. You "hear" them and the characters worry about them a heck of a lot, but zombies aren't major players in the bulk of the novel. They seem intended as a the foil for the six central characters "study" of their humanity, which in actuality is a lot of goading, in-fighting, brooding and extreme emotional displays.

Sloane, the main character, has her fair share of personal demons, and her story touches on several social issues, including abuse, abandonment and suicide. As serious as these issues are, Sloane's hyper-focus on them makes her emotionally inaccessible and strangely flat. She spends the better the novel fixated on the absence the sister who was basically her other half, and wishing she was dead, yet she hangs on so she doesn't put the group at risk. Confronting the ghosts of her past who've made her who she is offers a brief redeeming moment, but usually she reacts instead of acting. It was hard for me to like, much less get attached to such a passive character.

There's the rare moment in which the characters come together, but I think it was their inability to really connect that kept me from becoming emotionally involved. A few times I thought I would be pulled from the observation deck and sucked into the story, but all of those moments were short-lived. By the time I did find a character to become attached to, somewhere around page 250, it was too late. I had all but officially checked out of the story.

I desperately wanted to love This is Not a Test, but it wasn't meant to be. Even though the concept on the whole didn't work for me, Summer's gripping storytelling and gorgeous writing will certainly stay with me. I think This is Not a Test is sure to be a hit with readers who enjoy character-driven stories about the human condition , but if you appreciate poignant prose and vivid imagery you should take a read just for that.


  1. Thanks for the review, Susan! I downloaded a sample of this to my Kindle, and while I enjoyed what I read, I never went on to press that "BUY" button. I didn't delete the sample, because I didn't want to forget about it entirely, but somehow I just never went back to make a decision.

    I think, in the end, I didn't feel any connection to Sloane. Here we have a life or death, desperate situation, and the MC isn't particularly interested in living. It didn't gel for me either.

  2. Hmm, I'm a little squeamish but like you I'm interested in the concept so I might see if I can download a sample like Dianne.