There are not a lot of authors who I consider a sure thing; even fewer books that I knew I’d love soon after reading its synopsis. This is Not A Test is a book that I’ve pined over for months now, so you can just imagine how high my expectations were. It always amazes me when a book meets that standard and then some. From the creepiest, prettiest cover I’ve ever laid eyes on, to the tactile allure of the summary, Ms. Summers delivered a novel heaped with terror and suspense. This book decimated every other zombie book I’ve ever read so far, which is surprising because this book wasn’t a gore-fest by any stretch. Courtney Summers veered away from the zombie novel norm by highlighting her characters’ emotions as they struggle and deal with their own demons, new and old, all while the world was on the cusp of zombie apocalypse. In a way, it was like The Forest of Hands and Teeth series by Carrie Ryan – books that focused on the human element sparsely peppered with the carnage of living in a world overrun by zombies.
From the get go, Courtney will overcome you with fear – and no, I’m not talking about your fear of the undead. I’m talking about something a bit closer to the disturbing reality of abuse. Sloane Price had planned to escape the violence of living with her father. The only way she thought she could go was to kill herself. So goes Sloan’s soliloquies about the ways she wanted to go. Swallowing pills would’ve been the easiest way but her sister took that choice away when she abandoned her to their abusive father. A contagion struck; turning the entire population into rabid, flesh eating monsters and Sloan, feeling abandoned and alone, succumbed to the reality that the only way out is to give up the illusions of surviving.
Six kids – stranded in a school surrounded by zombies. That is the simple plot line this book was about. But come on, Summers is known for creating some pretty angst-filled characters, so you know it won’t be as simple as a story about six kids battling the undead with baseball bats and crowbars. You know she’ll twist your guts and it won’t be because the character ended up swathed in zombie matter and you’re feeling like you want to spill your own guts – literally. You know she’ll squeeze your heart and it’s not because you just witnessed a thirteen year-old boy bashed the head of his undead English teacher. The lady knows how to write broken characters and Sloane Price was quite possibly one of the messiest. It’s not enough that Sloane’s character is abused, bruised and battered. Summers had to go and throw in some zombies just for fun. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. Either way, be prepared for a heart-ripping read.
The book focused on how these six kids would behave and their state of minds as they dealt with the helplessness of their situations. It was easy to get lost in the emotions and psyches of the characters that I sometimes forget the book was also about zombies. Therein lies my dilemma; because sometimes, it was easy to ignore the fact that outside, the world succumbed to people who were once alive but now dead – reanimated, if I may. This zombie book was pretty tame by Jonathan Maberry standards. But the emotions and terrors were intensified somehow. The characters (especially Sloane) were very adept in making you feel their horror – whether imagined or not. You’ll see the shadow that they see, you’ll feel every single trickle of dread, every pump of blood and at the same time, you’ll agonized about all the could’ve beens and what will not be. Even if the majority of the book didn’t focus on the gore, the last ten pages more than made up for it. It was intense.
VERDICT: This book rocked in the most un-zombie way possible. Courtney Summers took the rudimentary zombie apocalypse story elements and added just the right perfectly flawed characters to take her readers on a higher (but different) level of zombie awesome. Emotional, gripping, and superb. Words that best described what I’d just read. What I want to know is, Ms. Summers, tell us what happens next.