OPINION: 5 STARS
Completely captivating, enthralling and entrancing, This is Not a Test is the perfect blend of the contemporary and emotional components I love from Courtney Summers, with the upped stakes and risk that comes with a zombie takeover. With an intriguing blend of one character’s mental state of ready to give up and a group of people who want nothing more than to live, This is Not a Test will challenge readers in the most painful but beautiful of ways. There is a guttural rawness to this one that will keep readers turning the pages, marking this as the kind of book that lasts long after the last sentence.
Sloane is broken in the best kind of way, a girl who is so beat down from everything in her life that she’s ready to be done. Finally taking the step on her own to end it all, but not succeeding as she hoped, Sloane finds herself immersed in a life or death situation that she feels like she’s unable to get out of. After pushing through everything and finding shelter and safety, Sloane isn't sure how she can kill herself now. Not so far gone that she’s unable to think of the others, but still so wrapped up in her pain she is determined to find a way, there is something poignant but brutal about being in her mind. Taking the opportunities she can to figure things out for herself, yet having to wreak the consequences of her decisions, Sloane is tested in some new and unexpected ways that will capture readers. She goes through a tremendous amount of growth and change, both in who she is and the way she sees the world and reaching beyond simply finding a reason to want to live.
There is a relatively small but strongly build cast with this one, pitching several different personality types against each other. Tensions are high, and an undercurrent of fear keeps people on their toes and in each other’s faces. While Sloane sticks to the sidelines, she is still a constant presence and has her own impact on each person. Summers does a remarkable job of making each character stand out in a way that keeps readers from getting them confused, and also will make different readers react to and side with different characters, depending on who they are, and never making them feel like they’re siding with the wrong person, nor is the reader’s take on everyone dependent on Sloane’s. The way the situation impacts each character is beautifully portrayed, even though Sloane’s perspective, and each character will leave their own mark.
Having a strong driving force behind it that is more than just a base instinct to survive, and holding a high psychological feel with a strong emotional component, This is Not a Test has a smooth pacing and a style that will draw readers in. With some mystery to it, and a few unexpected and gutting twists thrown in, this one is both a character and plot driven kind of book. The effects of being holed up against the outside world for so long are explored, and the rising emotions and desires that come with it are shown, both outwardly and between the lines. While there is an element of romance to this one, it is far from the main point of the book, and happens in a realistic way, with bursts of intensity and then moments of softness as well.
Written in the same strong and fluid way that defines Summers, and having a vivid voice to it, this is the kind of book that cannot easily be described but is an absolute must read. Even if you don’t care too much for contemporary books, or for zombies, this book is so expertly done and entrancing that it shouldn’t be passed over. This book is a stunning exploration of human drives and desires, of finding your way back from being so far gone there's no hope. Beautifully navigating a sea of desolation, and setting it against a backdrop of strong survival, This is Not a Test clashes the two concepts in the most painful but realistic of ways, leaving readers gutted but better for it.
Reading level: Ages 13 and up
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: June 19, 2012