My Review: This Is Not a Test absolutely blew my mind. There is no other way to say it. I actually went into this book with low expectations. Come on, 6 students stuck in a high school while a zombie horde tries to find a way in? A protagonist who no longer wants to live? In the wrong hands, this story could have turned out a complete mess. But thanks to Courtney Summers, This Is Not a Test is a gripping, frighteningly realistic portrayal of not only human survival, but of finding the will to live.
There have been a few reviews floating around that have basically said that This Is Not a Test is not a zombie book, but a story that just so happens to have zombies in it. I would say that there is some truth to this statement. You could take the zombie aspect out and replace it with a natural disaster, an alien invasion, etc. HOWEVER, if you think this somehow makes the book less scary, think again. I had the pleasure (or displeasure depending on how you look at it) of reading the novel during a storm that knocked out my power for about 12 hours. I couldn't sleep since it was so unbearably hot, so I lit some candles and decided to give the book a shot. I finished it in less than 6 hours and it left me shaken. The title of the book combined with the eerie, blood splattered cover only intensified what lie between the pages. To put it bluntly, I was thoroughly creeped out and the feeling didn't leave me right away.
Every protagonist in a story has issues to face or overcome. And most of the time, these issues are revealed methodically and are carefully paced to keep the reader engaged. Courtney Summers does something quite different with her protagonist. Before jumping into the novel, I pretty much thought I had the story figured out. Zombies take over, Sloane's whole family is killed, therefore, she has no reason to stay alive. I couldn't have been more wrong because Summers drops a bomb on us within the first few pages of the story. Sloane's nightmare began way before zombies ever entered the picture. It started when her father began physically abusing both her and her sister Lily. What kept Sloane going was her sister's promise that they would one day run away together. However, she was never prepared for Lily to betray her by taking off and leaving her with their monster of a father. We learn this within the first few pages of the book as well as the fact that because of this, Sloane has given up on life. She is ready to commit suicide, preferring to face death than be her father's punching bag. But before she can follow through with her plan, the world as she knows it comes to an end. The dead roam the streets looking for human flesh. If it wasn't for a small group of survivors, she would be zombie food or become one herself. But did them saving her only prolong the inevitable? I guess this is why I find Sloane such an interesting, complex character. While the others have fond thoughts of their parents or a sibling or a significant other, all she has is the painful memories of her dead mother, abusive father, and selfish sister.
One of the most heartbreaking parts in the story is when Sloane is talking to Rhys after he discovers her desire to end her life. She says to him, "I wouldn't have left you like that. Not like [Lily] did to me...She always said I'd die without her and she left anyway."
"But you didn't die," [Rhys] says.
"I did," I say. "I'm just waiting for the rest of me to catch up.”
Here is another line that gives you a clear view of Sloane's despair. “Waiting around to be saved is like waiting to die and I have done more of both than anyone else in the room.”
This Is Not a Test is an extremely well written story that has a beautiful flow to the writing style. The chapters are short which compliments its somber tone. What absolutely amazed me about this book is the fact that not once did I wonder how the epidemic started nor was it ever mentioned or explored. 9 times out of 10, when I am reading an apocalyptic tale, I want to know why, when, and how. I think the reason it never crossed my mind with this book is because the story's main focus is not on the zombies scratching at the door. This is Not a Test is a character driven novel that focuses on the human psyche in extreme circumstances. It's about the decisions and sacrifices that have to be made, the trust that is formed and broken, etc.
That being said, I must warn you this book is not for the faint of heart. It will test you emotionally, ethically, and morally. It covers an array of controversial topics such as abuse, suicide, abandonment. But as the story progresses, and hidden truths come to surface, a whole new set of topics are introduced. If pushed to the extreme, would you sacrifice one life for another? Would the guilt of split second decision making be too much weight on your shoulders? Would you rather take your own life than try to survive in a world overrun by the dead?
If you are looking for a book that will give you a few hours of mindless entertainment, this one is not for you. However, if you want a story that will touch you emotionally, challenge you morally, and keep you on the edge of your seat, then I recommend This Is Not a Test. If you are a fan of The Walking Dead tv series or the Aftertime book series by Sophie Littlefield, then you are in for a treat. If you haven't, you definitely need to check them out, especially since Sloane reminds me of both Andrea (The Walking Dead) and Cass (Aftertime). I thank LibraryThing.com and St. Martin's Griffin for giving me the opportunity to read and review this riveting novel.