Review: This Is Not a Test

This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
Release Date ~ June 19, 2012
St. Martin's Griffin ~ Macmillan
ISBN13: 9780312656744
E-galley received from publisher for review
Goodreads 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?

Zombie books seem to be growing in popularity and that's something that I have no complaints about! I've mentioned before that I have a certain weakness for zombie films, and books are no exception to this.
But what I found particularly intriguing about This Is Not a Test is how the zombie storyline serves more as a backdrop to the real story; which deals much more with Sloane's personal growth and development than anything else. That's something largely unexpected in a zombie book, but it does make for something new.

It does a fantastic job of questioning who the real zombies are - the killer undead wandering around outside, or the absolutely broken and shattered living girl who can't feel anything?
  1. A zombie book with depth:

    Like I mentioned above, it's really great to see that there's so much more to this than just undead humans trying to kill living people (with some good old government conspiracy thrown in). Sloane is desperately unhappy and angry; quite frankly, she really isn't concerned with her survival at all. Which makes it rather interesting to throw her into a survival scenario. And it's so enriching to see what the motives are behind her actions, and the changes which take place to her as her situation moves along. And it's especially interesting because Sloane doesn't feel like she's really missing out on anything with the zombies taking over- her life wasn't any better before that happened.
  2. Realistically scary:

    Even though the zombies don't play a huge role in the story, they do create a very effective setting just by being there - it's like a looming dark shadow over the entire plot. And the fact that everything is so still, so quiet for such a long time it just makes the reader more anxious for that JUMP moment. And there are so many other dark, frightening aspects to it that add to the overall ambiance - it's impossible to escape. But these other aspects are ones we can easily relate to because they're so familiar to our society and happen all the time (as unfortuante as it is). That feeling of loneliness and losing those we care about - that's terrifying.
But unfortunately, I found that there wasn't quite enough development of the story for it to really appeal to me as a reader. I applaud Courtney Summers for being able to create a rich zombie book with so much more going on than zombies - but I also have to admit that I was expecting a bit more action, and to identify with the main character both of which I found to be areas lacking.

I wasn't particularly taken with many of the secondary characters either - it was understandable that they would be upset and angry, but it seemed like they were all working against each other in rather petty ways simply to get back revenge. Every character lacked an idea of what they needed to accomplish in the long-term, and ended up stuck on short term desires. Normally I would expect such heavy, dark books to move me but for whatever reason I found it far too difficult to root for any character because I just couldn't identify. And without that relationship, I couldn't LOVE the book although I can clearly see why so many others would.

Courtney's talent as a writer is exceptional and beautiful; lovely imagery, and captivating words that draw you in. A zombie book that truly stands out among the rest- it even has a vaguely contemporary feel to it, which could make it appeal to a large group of readers.

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