But as friends read it and gave it absolutely fantastic reviews, I felt ever more compelled to pick the book up and weigh in. I figured that at the very least it wouldn't hurt to download a sample to my kindle and check it out.
So I did. And when I finished the sample, I wished I had the book in my hands at that very minute. (I decided to buy the physical copy because it was less. I refuse to pay more for an eBook.)
I've taken my sweet time writing this review, because while I love This Is Not A Test and think it is truly awesome, I've had a hard time putting my thoughts into words. (Odd, huh?) Read on and I'll try to do this book justice.
The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
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.
As far as I am concerned, there are two major plots going on in This Is Not A Test. We have the direct and obvious presence of the zombies themselves and the situation that they have created for our characters' story to take place in. But then we also have the far more important story of how this situation has effected, and continues to effect, those characters. This is where Courtney Summers spends the majority of her time and it really pays off.
Sloane comes into the zombie crisis already use to living in a violent environment. She actually wants to die, and her life sucks enough that while I didn't want her to succeed in that quest I also didn't feel compelled to shout "Why?!" at her. I hoped she would find something to live for, and I think it's very clever how Courtney used Sloane's pain as a strength that actually made her capable of surviving.
This is an extremely character based novel and the twisting, shifting relationships between the characters -- how their lives were vs. how they change because of the zombie situation -- is handled very well. No one seemed to remain who they were. Instead of Grace, the class president, leading our band to safety we have drug dealer Cary doing so. Our 'leading man', Rhys, is just your average guy who happens to be a pretty decent person and who grows more interesting as the story progresses. You get the idea.
It's not all character psychology, though. There are some genuinely heart pounding moments that will ensure you never forget the threat lurking just beyond the doors. The thing to remember is that while the threat outside is very real, the dangers of surviving something this horrific and the things people will do to keep living are the central theme here.
Sloane is an intriguing and complex heroine. She isn't your typical sunshine and roses type of person. She genuinely wants to die. Yet she has a strict moral code regarding this and does not want to get the rest of the group killed in the process. I really loved watching her grow as the novel progressed. She never made some drastic 180 turn where she was suddenly bubbly, but she did seem to regain at least some desire to exist as she witnessed the things happening to those around her. I also particularly loved the fact that since the others really didn't "know" her, they constantly mistook her indifference about whether she would survive -- her constant willingness to risk herself for them -- as courage.
The other five students she shared the school with were all equally fascinating in their own right. I don't want to give a character by character analysis here. Instead, I'll say that each of these people had their own distinct issues to deal with. They had strengths and weaknesses. They struggled with real issues that made the situation inside the school every bit as perilous as the one outside of it. And at the end of the day, each character had a moment that truly defined them. A reason why they, specifically, needed to be there.
The Romance in This Is Not A Test was very well done. I did not immediately pick out any one character as a love interest for Sloane. In fact, I didn't go into this looking for a love story. However, the way that things developed between her and Rhys felt both real and interesting to me. I love the fact that both characters seemed like such "normal" people. They weren't beautiful or perfect or anything like that. Rather, they were simply two individuals who gradually came to be together. While this isn't a book I would recommend for someone looking for their next romantic read, I think that the scenes between these two were very well done and that the way they were presented was appropriate for the story that Courtney was trying to tell.
I read This Is Not A Test within 24 hours of receiving it. I absolutely could not put this book down. I really felt sucked into the 'world' that Courtney Summers created and I felt really connected to her characters. I was desperate to know what would happen to these people. They felt very real to me.
This Is Not A Test is a novel that I would recommend very highly. I will definitely be reading more books by Courtney Summers in the future.