This is Not A Test by Courtney Summers
Give me a second, okay? I need to catch my breath. You see, I finished this book last night after tearing through about two hundred pages and I’ve yet to recover. I’m not sure if I ever will.
This book was that good.
So good, in fact, that I’m trying to figure out if it’s socially acceptable for me to begin rereading it a mere sixteen hours after finishing the first time.
This is the second novel I’ve read by Courtney Summers (the first being Cracked Up To Be, which I also loved beyond words), and holy cow: I have never encountered another author like her. Her voice is distinct, genuine, and totally absorbing. Combine that with a killer (no pun intended) plot, and this book is damn near unstoppable.
The skeleton of this novel is simple enough: a zombie apocalypse has ravaged the town of Cortege, and six teenagers have found shelter in their abandoned high school. But there’s a catch, of course. In a world now ravaged by the dead, the main character Sloane Price isn’t even sure if she wants to be alive. Her family life shattered when her beloved sister Lily ran away from home, and as far as Sloane is concerned, she has nothing left to live for.
But hers isn’t the only story, of course. The backgrounds of the other five students are all intricately woven into the plot. It’s almost unbelievable to me how Summers was able to create six wholly distinct characters with fleshed out (seriously, these puns are all unintentional) backgrounds and motivations for why they must survive. There’s Cary, the self-appointed leader of the group, Trace and Grace, polar opposite twins, Harrison, the lone freshman of the bunch, and Rhys. Oh, Rhys.
Excluding Sloane, I’m not sure whether Cary or Rhys was my favorite character. Cary’s development was incredible and his entire mindset was clear, but I also feel obligated to swoon over the smart, sweet, caring love interest, right? I couldn’t stand Trace, and I didn’t feel anything for Grave one way or another. I understand her role, but I just didn’t mesh with her character. If I can make any critique of the characters, it’s that Harrison seems to be the least developed. He’s more of a pawn in the story, though, so that’s mainly where his role lies. This isn’t to say he’s a bad character—he just pales in comparison to the rest. How Summers can make my feelings for these characters fluctuate between hatred and love so fluidly is beyond me. They all felt completely real.
The plot is sort of slow at the beginning, but it’s supposed to be. More than the gore of the zombie apocalypse raging just outside their shelter, this book is about the characters and their personal demons with the possibility of their impending deaths. In a lot of ways, this book reminded me of The Breakfast Club—with the exception of a few scenes, most of movie is about the character development. But don’t worry: when this novel needs action, it brings it hard. This book has made me simultaneously fascinated and terrified of what I would do if I were ever in the same situation.
(For the record, I decided on “curl up in the fetal position and cry” as my response.)
If I could make a critique on the plot, it’s that the explanation behind why the zombie infection began in the first place is kind of fuzzy. I never got a good idea of the background of it, if it was something totally out of the ordinary, that sort of thing. I also found it to be sort of funny that no one really questioned what was happening. There were no moments of “This can’t be real, zombies don’t exist, dude!” Which, let’s be honest, is probably for the best. We all hate that one kid in the horror movie who tries to remain skeptical, but ends up dying first anyway.
On a final note, the ending. Just. It was one of those endings that truly took my breath away. For the sake of keeping this spoiler-free, I won’t elaborate, but I was speechless once I was done reading, and then reread the page again and again. I couldn’t think of a more suitable ending to this novel if I tried.
This Is Not A Test is undoubtedly a book that I will be thinking about for a long time to come. I’ve never been huge into the horror genre, but I’ll gladly take this book as the exception. Put down all (if any) of your hesitations, and read this book. Now. Please.