Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

YA Book Review: ‘This Is Not A Test’ by Courtney Summers

Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis

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?



Review

I read this during the Bout of Books read-a-thon over the summer and it was perfect read-a-thon fodder.  As I mentioned recently, I am not too brave when it comes to horror.  In the same way that I might be persuaded to see a “horror” film that was rated 12A, I was persuaded by the many, many positive reviews to read this YA take on zombies.  In this case, that doesn’t mean that the zombies are any less walking-dead-creepy but that they feature less often and that I wasn’t subjected to too many descriptions of their brain eating exploits.  Instead, the story focuses on what happens to a bunch of teenagers that wake up to find that many of their friends and family are rather more zombie-ish than they were before.

The best thing about this book is the tension that Summers manages to build.  The writing isn’t particularly sophisticated and there were very few characters I would actually want to ride out a zombie-based apocalypse with but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t glued to the pages of This Is Not A Test and reading as though my own life depended on it. There are plenty of hold-your-breath moments hiding around dark corridors and edge-of-your-seat moments out with the zombies.  The desperation the teenagers inevitably feel seeps into every page and means that even preparing breakfast is a source of much drama.

Having a main character fighting for her life that doesn’t actually want to fight for her life is an interesting twist and one that works most of the time.  Sloane has been through a lot and is vulnerable and shortly before the zombie apocalypse was planning on committing suicide.  Her lack of desire to try means that she makes some unpredictable decisions and takes the plot in some quirky directions without anyone having to become too self-sacrificingly righteous.  That said, she struggles to relate to her fellow survivors and has quite a bleak outlook even for someone whose world is coming to an end, which means that I felt as though there was a kind of disconnection that stopped me getting completely behind Sloane and the others.  

After a while, my sympathy with Sloane waned and I wanted to shake her.  It isn’t that Sloane is whiny, because she isn’t particularly.  It was just that I couldn’t understand her or really like her.  She talks a lot about how depressed she was/is and how tired she is of the world and everything in it and I just wanted her to “put up or shut up”.  I know, harsh.  Sorry.  I think that maybe the story might have worked even better if the story had been narrated by one of the other characters, maybe Rhys.

The sad thing is, if you’d asked me to rate This Is Not A Test when I was three quarters of the way through, I would have given it a higher score. Well, half a star more at least.  The last few chapters read as though Summers suddenly got bored of her idea and just wanted to be done with it.  Most of the book is very well-paced; the end section is ridiculously rushed.  I expected an action-packed finale and a certain increase in pace, obviously, but the last few chapters stumbled over themselves and I closed the final page feeling a bit dazed and short-changed.

Overall:  Despite the final part not quite meeting its potential, I definitely enjoyed my first foray into zombie fiction.  It isn’t without its flaws but it was great fun to read and I was completely hooked, which can only be a good thing.  Just remember to brace yourself for the ending!

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Date finished:  17 August 2012
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Bought
Genre:  YA fiction; zombie fiction
Published: by St Martin’s Griffin in June 2012