By Courtney Summers
Available now from St. Martin's Griffin
Courtney Summers has earned awards and critical acclaim, but her books haven't quite made it to the bestseller lists. She's the kind of writer who gets full artistic and technical marks, but I've never fallen in love with her work. It's easy to love her writing, but her main characters like to keep the world at arm's distance, including the reader. However, I fell in love with THIS IS NOT A TEST and I think it is the book that could make Summers a bestseller.
What makes THIS IS NOT A TEST so different? Zombies.
(Don't even pretend you don't like zombies.)
The greatest strength of THIS IS NOT A TEST is the characterization. Sloane, the narrator, and five other teenagers are holed up in their high school during the zombie apocalypse. It took the group one week and two deaths to make it from the beginning of the apocalypse to the school. Those two deaths were Grace and Trace's parents. They blame Cary Chen, the leader of the group and strongest survivor. Rhys Moreno is sticking by Cary. Harrison, the freshman no one knows, isn't much good for anything but crying. The older kids treat him like a pawn. But Sloane remains apart from the in-fighting. Sloane Price, our heroine, was rather inconveniently interrupted by the zombie apocalypse, you see. She planned to commit suicide.
Sloane is ready to clock out. Ironically, it makes her an almost perfect survivor (aside from that pesky death wish). She takes the crazy things happening inside and doesn't freak out when things go wrong. And things go wrong, indeed. Six people who don't trust each other trapped in one building?
THIS IS NOT A TEST is a harrowing, yet fast read. I couldn't put it down. I think it took me an hour, maybe an hour and a half total, because I could not wait to know what happened next. I wanted Sloane and the others to somehow find a way to overcome. This is not a story where the humans are indistinguishable from the zombies. The teens have a better nature and they often appeal to it. (Not that their baser natures don't get in some hits.) There are reasons to like and dislike all six, but I personally didn't want any of them to die. (Note to soft-hearted readers: this is a zombie book.)
I couldn't not love THIS IS NOT A TEST. It's the perfect blend of literary and genre fiction. One moment the characters are running for their lives; the next they're talking about their feelings. It's a meditation on guilt and responsibility and truth and being horny. If you like books with intense, creepy atmosphere and a slightly crazy, suicidal narrator then this is the book for you.
But oh, I think I hate Summers a little for the ending. That's what happens when you give someone your heart.