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YA Book Review: 'This is Not a Test' by Courtney Summers

By Pocketfulofbooks @PocketfulofBooks

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
YA Book Review: 'This is Not a Test' by Courtney Summers
Published: July 19th, 2012 Publisher: St Martin's Griffin
Source: Purchased from Amazon Format: Paperback Pages: 323
Cover Art

Ooof I adore this cover, and have done ever since I first caught sight of it. It terrifies me because I don't quite understand what's happening to that girl but I know it's nothing good. It is just sheer cover brilliance for this type of novel. Love it.

Plot 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? My Rating:

YA Book Review: 'This is Not a Test' by Courtney Summers

First Lines:

'Lily, I woke up and the last piece of my heart disappeared. I opened my eyes and I felt it go.'

(I love that first line SO MUCH. When I first opened the book and read it my heart did that little jump it does when it knows it's onto a good thing.)
Pocket-Size Review Ahh this book is so emotional! I was expecting fast paced action, ass kicking and probably, lets face it, a romance but it was SO MUCH MORE and SO BEAUTIFUL! Highs: The raw power of this book is remarkable. Your typical zombie book it aint. Lows: Nothing was wrong with it. It has 4 not 5 stars purely because it's not one I could re-read over and over again.

I was genuinely moved by this novel. I never thought I would be starting my 'This is Not a Test' review with those words. I expected zombies and gore and action-packed ass-kicking and blunt objects being gouged into skulls and scaling fences and running for your life and the adrenaline when you make it and dragging your loved ones along with you and maybe finding new loved ones along the way. This novel did have that. For maybe 5% of the time. The other 95% was focused solely on the raw emotion of 6 teenagers as they struggle to keep their heads above water as they wait to die. The main character was really intriguing because her world ended a long time before the ACTUAL world ended. This meant that she lacked the intense desire for survival and the overwhelming fear that you would expect the main character in a zombie/apocalypse novel to have. I thought this was a unique way to approach the story, and I really loved the unique dimension it brought. The terrifying part of the story is not the Infected who bang on the barriers menacingly day and night, but the events that led to Sloane feeling that her life was worthless. That scared me right from the beginning, and by the time we met her father she had already convinced me in just a paragraph that I totally utterly despised and feared him. I was on her side in an instant against the monster who, by only a word and a whiff of cologne, can make her want to curl up in a ball and die. 

The sisterly bond between Sloane and the absent Lily was one I felt right from the outset. 'Lily' is the very first word of the novel, and she never stops being at the forefront of Sloane's mind, even when the barriers are falling. Lily, and Lily's betrayal, and the loneliness and fear that proceeded it weighed heavier on me whilst I was reading than anything else. I actually felt as though I physically missed Lily, and I could absolutely relate to Sloane's overwhelming desire to be with Lily and talk to Lily, even though I didn't even know Lily! The aching longing is portrayed so well by the author, and really affected me as I was reading.

We can feel the madness edging into Sloane's mind, and the instability caused by an intense suffering that has left its mark. When one sleepover is your only happy memory, you know you've got problems. I noticed that Sloane often eavesdrops or spies on other people's conversations/affectionate moments when she really shouldn't be intruding. I thought this was an interesting aspect of her character, as it is as if she is stealing other people's happy memories and moments and storing them up for herself. That was what made me feel that Sloane hadn't truly given up on herself, and some part of her did want to live and make happy memories for herself. 

The other characters can be summed up in one word: unraveling. The six students are trapped inside a school together, creating barriers from anything they can find to prevent the Infected from entering,

'The idea is nothing gets past these barriers we've created. We spent the first five hours here putting them up. We've spent the last two shaking and quiet, waiting for them to fall'
I think that quote describes both physical and mental barriers and, sure enough, panic, paranoia, suspicion, aggression, pride, fear and anger soon take over with horrifying consequences. Every character has their function and fulfills it well. We have the struggle for power by two males asserting their masculinity, we have the boy who is unhinged with fear, we have the girl who is trying to hold it all together and we have a boy who is a potential shoulder for Sloane/ love interest. The way Sloane transfers her emotional longing for her sister into a physical longing for Rhys was absolutely heartbreaking. The safety and the promises and the freedom from suffering that Lily represented is manifested into Rhys and becomes intensely moving. It was not a love story or a romance in any way, it was somebody who has had everything taken from her trying to get a little something back.

Overall, this book was stunning. The writing is beautiful and haunting- Courtney Summers really knows how to convey emotion in the least possible words! I found myself underlining lots of quotes and re-reading the particularly gorgeous bits. It is redemptive, and ultimately hopeful, in the saddest possible way. Other Thoughts

This Book has Inspired me to Read: I might give another Courtney Summers books a go, although I have heard many people saying that this one is her best, so I'm not sure. I will definitely be up for reading her future book though!

Memorable Quotes:

'The idea is nothing gets past these barriers we've created. We spent the first five hours here putting them up. We've spent the last two shaking and quiet, waiting for them to fall'
'All of us will always be here. 
This place is a coffin'

'When this is over, society will need entertainment to get past it. We'll make movies about it, hundreds of movies, and in every one of them, we'll be the heroes and the love interests and best friends and winners and we'll watch these movies until we are so far removed from our own history, we'll forget how it really felt to be here' Three Words to Describe this Book: Haunting, Terrifying, Redemptive.

But Don't Take My Word For It...
  • Blog Reviews of 'All Things Different': 
Bunbury in the Stacks says:

'This Is Not a Test was a powerful contemporary novel masquerading excellently as horror.  As with all of the best horror, it was the psychology of the big picture that really drove into your brain and made shivers run down your spine.  The ending was perfect, the cover chilling, and the story astoundingly real.'

The Readventurer says: '...the “gruesome” part of this book doesn’t arrive with the zombie apocalypse; it takes place within the grasping, desperate, damaged minds of the survivors.'

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