Sloane is one of six students who have taken shelter in Cortege High following a zombie outbreak. There’s little to do but sit and wait it out, hope that the pounding zombies stay on the outside of the doors, and wish for rescue. One bite from an infected person is all it takes to become one of the walking dead. For Sloane, there’s a certain irony in her situation: six months ago, her world ended, and she’s been planning her death ever since. As she waits for the inevitable death that is sure to come, she’s forced to see things through the eyes of people who want to survive. Will the group make it out alive? What happens when life and death situations move ever closer in personal bids for power?
Courtney Summers is arguably one of the most beloved YA authors writing today, known for her gritty portrayals of teens in turmoil. This Is Not a Test marks a departure for her, moving from the firmly-grounded contemporary world of YA into much murkier, fantastical territory. Summers took a risk, to be sure, but her fourth book is an absolute triumph of blending genres and creating a story that is completely gripping.
Sloane’s journey is emotionally raw, unflinchingly real, and totally heart-wrenching. Summers takes her time to develop the characters trapped in Cortege High, and the result is so successful that it almost hurts. While many zombie novels forsake character development for rising action, Summers manages to do both: the novel’s characters have emotions, motivations, and undergo changes as their situation becomes more dire, but the novel’s pacing is pitch-perfect. This is not a novel that is easy to put down. As the danger gets closer, the tension builds to an almost unbearable level, and the last 50 or so pages are excruciating (in the best way possible).
What is perhaps most commendable is Summers’s careful handling of the character of Sloane herself. Sloane’s desire to die never feels melodramatic or heavy-handed. It’s clear that she has suffered the worst kinds of pain and feels there’s nothing left to gain from continuing to live. Her subtle development as the novel progresses, as well as her coming to grips with her family situation, is exceedingly well done.
All in all, this novel surpassed all expectations. Although the fact that it’s a zombie novel is going to be widely publicized, the novel is so much more than that. This is a zombie novel for people who don’t like books about zombies. Fantastic contemporary YA with a twist. Highly, highly recommended.
This is Not a Test hits shelves today. Go get a copy. Go. Go. Go.
This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers. St. Martin’s Griffin: 2012. Electronic galley accepted for review via NetGalley.