This is Not a Test
by Courtney Summers
Original Publication Date: June 19, 2012
Length: 326 pages
Publisher: St. Martins Griffin
Obtained Via: Borrowed from the library
View at the Traffic light:
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?
Those who know me well know that I am not a fan of zombie novels. This is Not a Test is the third zombie novel I’ve actually tried, and I have yet to give one more than 3 stars. That being said, This is Not a Test isn’t a zombie novel–not really. Instead, it’s a character-focused novel that uses a zombie apocalypse as a sort of framing device and a way to get the main character to examine herself and her life.
Sloane is ready for it to be over, all of it. After her older sister left Sloane with their abusive father, Sloane is barely hanging on, and she’s ready to end it–when the zombies start coming up from the grave. Her survival is one of accident, not determination.By almost sheer accident she ends up trapped in her old school with five other people who want to live when she does not–but she’s also not willing to put them in complete danger just to escape life. The zombies take over the world outside while Sloane–and the five others–try to adjust to life inside.
It’s an interesting premise and I liked the zombies as almost a rhetorical device. They are real threats, and they are present, but they’re not constant. It creates a spooky affect, one I find almost always works better in books–the threat that you can’t see all the time, but is always there, just in the background. That alone made me more open to This is Not a Test than I might otherwise be.
Seeing the world through Sloane’s eyes was an interesting choice, and in the end, I think it worked. So often main characters in books such as This is Not a Test want to fight for survival, even if they don’t know what survival means. Having a main character who isn’t sure she wants to survive was a way for the book to ask some questions that are often glossed over in survival stories. The six students trapped in the school might figure out a way to ride out the zombies and survive, but what does that really mean for their lives–and it is a life worth fighting for? This is Not a Test doesn’t go the easy route and say life is worth it just for inherent value, but makes Sloane–and the reader–really think about survival instinct(or in Sloane’s case, the lack thereof).
However, while all the big questions and themes that surrounded This is Not a Test worked for me, the story itself felt a little lacking. While I appreciated the introspective questions that haunted Sloane, the story line itself dragged in places. The five other characters trapped in the school with Sloane felt underdeveloped most of the time. While there were character moments for them here and there, they were difficult to tell apart. The story depended on these other characters as well, and it was difficult to really think about This is Not a Test whenever the story line was so slow.
I liked the idea of This is Not a Test more than I liked the story. While This is Not a Test raised some interesting questions, I found the storyline a little disappointing. I appreciated the book, but I’m not sure I really liked it. 3/5 stars.