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?
Six words to describe This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers: powerful, suspenseful, horrifying, unexpected, heart-rending, real.
I didn’t expect to like this novel. I’m not a big fan of anything zombie and I feel terror at the mere mention of the horror genre. This book, though, was something totally different, something completely unexpected. And probably not for fans of pure zombie-inspired tales of horror!
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it, though! This is Not a Test is a wonderfully constructed novel. The characters are purely three-dimensional – they each have their strengths and an abundance of weaknesses that serve to make the novel all the more interesting, and all the harder to put down.
Rating: 4 out of 5
I loved how the characters didn’t really like each other. I liked that they clung to each other so tightly, and yet there was nothing really holding them together. Nothing except the need to survive, and what a tenuous link that would turn out to be! The interactions between Sloane and the other characters was really the driving point of the novel, and its focus. I really enjoyed the way Summers created these characters, with all of their weaknesses and their strengths. I liked the way that they formed alliances and then the way they crumbled. The question of who was trustworthy, who was right and who was wrong was an intriguing one that persisted throughout the novel and to its hopeful (?) end.
Sloane was a really interesting protagonist for this novel. In the opening pages, we meet Sloane on the day she planned to die, only to have her suicide plans fall through. A short time later, the zombies arrive, and Sloane finds herself amongst people who are determined to survive, no matter the cost. Having already made the choice to die, Sloane nonetheless refuses to inconvenience or endanger those around her by following through with her decision… It makes for an interesting starting point, to say the least!
The zombies provide the framework for a novel that is ultimately about survival and the complexities of living in a changed world. Zombies are the reason these teens need to struggle to survive, the reason they need to make terrible decisions, but more often than not, the zombies hang in the background. They are fear given form, and provide an always present danger and horror that the characters are always aware of, but they are not often physically present throughout the novel. It is actually rare that they pose an immediate danger to the teens hiding inside the school, but in a way that makes the threat of them even worse.
After all, when your life is immediately threatened, adrenaline can keep you going. But what about when the threat isn’t as immediate? When your death isn’t present, but you can hear it knocking on the doors? Summers brilliantly explores the effect this has on the teenagers trapped in the school, as their alliances change and crumble around them, as they learn the hard truth about betrayal and just what they will do to survive.
This is Not a Test is not a novel with a clear ending. Everything is not wrapped up in a pretty little bow, but that is part of what made this novel so enjoyable for me. Much of the novel revolves around what we don’t know – why would the ending be any different?
Overall, I thought this was a fantastic book. Brilliantly paced, with great characters and an intriguing premise – I didn’t want to put it down, and I was still feeling the effects of having read This is Not a Test days (weeks!) later. I would strongly recommend this book. Read it! Absorb it! Think about it!