Monday, April 15, 2013

Review: This Is Not a Test - Courtney Summers

Released: June 19th, 2012
Bought paperback copy

Description from 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?

Review after the break ... Warning... SPOILERS

I saw this book on a bunch of Waiting on Wednesdays last year, and before knowing it was about zombies, the cover was what interested me. I liked how the models face was covered up by her hair, and how it helped hide any emotion she had on her face (because some models on the covers of books just stare back at you or look mean). It also has red dots splattered over the cover, which you can only imagine was supposed to be blood. But I also liked the title. I’m always curious as to how the title came to be for a novel, and This Is Not a Test sounded like it could have multiple meanings for a book of this genre.

I didn't know anything about Courtney Summers as an author, but after buying my paperback copy, I learned she had published other YA novels that I’d heard of, but didn't realize were written by the same author. Some of her other YA novels seemed to be about high school aged girls going through contemporary issues, so it was interesting to see how she would put a spin on that with the zombies theme.

I love zombies. I don’t physically love zombies, but I love the idea of zombies. I will watch any zombie movie, no matter the gore factor. The creative ways that zombie infection came to be, or how it spread is always fascinating to me. I think it started with the Resident Evil movies. The first time I learned about the Hive and how Alice was used as an experience for the T-virus, I was hooked. Zombie stories/movies aren't just about the undead chasing humans. It’s about human survival, and how our strengths and weaknesses are tested when put through stressful and scary situations. So when I heard this YA novel was about zombies, it didn't matter how involved in the zombie theme it was. I knew it was going to have some serious elements that made it go beyond a typical YA novel.

Sloane Price is our main character, and from the beginning, I was afraid for her. The novel begins with her being preoccupied by memories of her sister, Lily, who we find out, has left her and her dad alone after years of abuse from their father. You feel the pain for Sloane and you feel how depressed and worthless she feels. She has essentially given up and is just following her daily routine only to appease her father. We’re introduced to the background plot of the story within a few pages at the beginning of the novel, when Sloane and her father are interrupted at breakfast by noises outside, bringing a screaming/moaning person to the door and knocking and banging to get in.

When I saw it happened so suddenly, it was a blur, I truly mean this. I had to reread this passage over a couple of times because I felt like I was missing something. I was impressed at how vividly Summers painted this scene of invasion into Sloane’s house and how her emotions suddenly flared up out of nowhere from being dormant almost her entire life. This scene was the first scene where I began to be afraid while reading. I continued to be afraid throughout the rest of the story, the writing was THAT good. Summers had this way of inserting little details into the story where you constantly wanted to look over your shoulder every few pages to make sure you were still at home, and not among the undead in this story. This story is a supernatural YA novel, as it dealt with zombies, but it read like a contemporary with a supernatural element. I know that I’m just making up my own genre’s now, but I've experienced this type of story in other books I've read, so I feel validated in my statement.

As the synopsis on Goodreads explains, 6 students from the same school end up barricading themselves in their school, which was a very well fortified and advanced school. I liked how Summers took the time to give a solid back story on the school and how it was built in the community and had flashbacks to scenes in the hallways between all of these students prior to the infection outbreak. As with most YA main characters, Sloane was the quiet girl in school, but she still watched her peers and garnered information about them in order to assimilate herself into their survival party when they met up before getting to the school. It’s a little choppy in the explanation of how Sloane met up with the other students in the group, but it didn't affect the story for me. The narrative was a little off, and because it was in Sloane’s perspective, I thought it was fitting because she is not only experiencing this zombie outbreak alone; she has just been freed from an abusive father and is still experiencing the pain in her mind. Sloane isn't able to fully let go of her old life, her sister abandoning her, her abusive father, her will to live diminished.

This was another factor that interested me in deciding to read this book, out of the 6 students; Sloane was the only one who was ready and willing to die while the others clearly wanted to survive. We get to see the slow progress of her identity and self appreciation build back up during her time with the other students, the twins, Grace and Trace (corny choice for twin names…tsk tsk Summers), Cary, who is blamed throughout the entire story for letting the twins’ parents die when the death was meant for him, Harrison, who is the weakest of the bunch and lets his emotions show way too often, and Rhyse, who takes a modest approach at keeping the group together and keeping the peace. He’s also the main love interest for Sloane, and it was pretty obvious from the start. It’s not insta-love, because Sloane and Rhyse have memories of noticing each other in the halls at school, but it does develop over the course of their time together in the school, and it feels genuine.  

There’s a good amount of action in this story, but it happens in bursts. It’s structured in the way that the beginning starts you right off with action, then it slows down for a little while we get to know the characters, then it takes off again in the middle with an additional problem added to the plot, then it settled down again during what I call, the self realization period. The characters are coming to terms with what is happening around them, whereas the beginning half of the book, it was mainly shock and confusion. The ending picks up again and I wasn't too happy with the ending because I didn't feel that I got closure. It makes me think there may be a sequel in the future, which I could totally get on board for, but the main issues of the plot were solved, even if they weren't what I personally wanted. They were realistic and Sloane was able to get closure for herself.  

Even though I wasn't a huge fan of the ending, no matter how justified it was, I plan on checking out some of Courtney Summers other novels because I enjoyed the depth and emotion she worked into her writing and I’m looking forward to seeing how she explores an actual contemporary story. 

What do you think about zombie books/movies? Have you read anything else by Courtney Summers?

Happy Reading!


  1. Great review, Sallie! I'm glad you liked it enough to want to read her other books. I've always been super curious about this book. Love the cover! But when I heard it was about zombies I became little less excited. Unlike you, I don't really tend to like zombie books. And the only movie I liked with zombies was Zombieland (hilarious!). But I know I'll probably push away my zombie prejudice at some point and dive into this book, lol!

    1. I'm a zombie movie fan, but I hadn't read any zombie books until I came across The Forest of Hands and Teeth which I absolutely loved. Then this came out and it wasn't her first YA book and she had good reviews for all her books, so I gave it a try! Zombieland IS a hilarious movie. Warm Bodies, I also thought was pretty cute. I hope you check this one out! Thanks for stopping by, Krista!

  2. Ooh this book sounds really good! Normally I avoid zombie stories because I find the concept of zombies all a bit creepy but more recently I've sort of accidentally started books not knowing that they were about zombies and now I love them! Love the sound of this book so will be adding it to my wishlist ;P Great review :)

    Laura @ What's Hot?

    1. Yea, I didn't think I'd like zombie literature until I read The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan and I loved it! I think it has to do with the supernatural element, but also because with all the epidemics and infections that could possibly wipe us out, it feels more real than vampires/werewolves/demons and such!

      Thanks for checking out my review, Laura!

  3. Awesome review! I used to be sooo scared of zombies (I read this book back when it first came out and was terrified for like a week) but just yesterday I watched Zombieland it wasn't that bad (plus it was hilarious and I didn't have any trouble falling asleep at night lol) so zombies are definitely starting to grow on me. I absolutely LOVED this book, it will forever be one of the best books I've read, and I might just give more zombie books a go!

    ~Emily@Emily's Crammed Bookshelf

    And it's totally okay if you laugh at me for being scared lol. I was a total whimp when I was younger (who am I kidding, I'm still a bit of a whimp!). I'm telling you, the werewolf from the Prisoner of Askaban movie scared me for like a year. No joke. I'm such a baby.

    1. I totally understand why you were terrified for a week. I couldn't fall asleep, I stayed up reading until the sun came up because I was afraid if I didn't wait until the sun came up, the zombies would come for me! haha

      I'm still scared of the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz - they are freaky!

      Thanks for checking out my review, Emily!


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