Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Review: This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
Reviewed by Maggie: June 22, 2012
Published June 19, 2012 by St. Martin's Griffin
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I get the hype.
This Is Not a Test reminded me of Lord of the Flies meets The Walking Dead -- the first season when you're actually cheering for the humans and not the zombies -- with a dash of The Breakfast Club. Not only was this my first Courtney Summers book, this was also my first zombie book. Verdict? I'd like more of both please.
Sloane, a physically and emotionally abused girl, finds herself barricaded inside her high school along with five other students. While they know each other, they aren't friends. They came together because they were the only ones who weren't infected in a town overrun by zombies. The only signal they get on the radio is a recorded message informing them that "This is not a test." The school seems secure, the perfect place for a group struggling to survive. The difference between Sloan and everyone else is that she doesn't care to survive -- and hasn't since before the first zombie appeared.
There are so many elements to this novel. To begin, the setting is perfect. This is a survival story, but by having the group camped out at the school, the two basic elements of survival -- food and shelter -- are taken care of. Now instead of having the characters scrounge around for basic physical necessities, Summers can focus on the psychological aspect of survival. Holy mindfuck, Batman. This is an area where Summers excels. Not only is this about the living versus the dead, it's about the living dead, the people whose lives make them feel dead already. Sloane's survival up to this point has been more of a reflex than a desire. She watches as the other people in her group make choices -- cruel, arguably necessary choices -- to improve their own chances of survival. There is so much tension and suspense in this book as you try to figure out how it's going to end while you piece together how it began.
Of course, I also have to mention that one of the characters is Asian! Cary Chen, the stoner-turned-de facto leader, is a complicated, non-stereotypical character. Thank you, Courtney Summers, for that. And because I like to be thorough, I went ahead and mentally cast him.
I was hesitant to try Summers' previous books because while the reviews were often glowing, they would also include the words "uncomfortable," "intense," and "raw." Honestly, I just thought they would be too much for me, like the literary equivalent of Requiem for a Dream, a movie that I'm still not over and it came out 10 years ago! Adding zombies, though, is the perfect filter for all the intensity. The very real exploration of human nature and cruelty is much more palatable to a wuss like me with the paranormal zombie element. Having said that, I wish there was more information on the zombies, particularly how they came to be or how widespread they were. I know zombies aren't the focus of the story, but since they were included, I wanted to know more. Nevertheless, This Is Not a Test was the perfect introduction to Courtney Summers.
Rating: 4/5 stars.