Monday, 23 July 2012

Review: This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
Author: Courtney Summers
Publication Date: June 19, 2012
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Pages: 323
Genre: YA, Horro, Zombies
Source: Bought it

Book Description 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 Sloan 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?

Zombies and I generally don’t get a long. I can’t watch the movies, or play the video games without squealing at zombies jumping up at my face - needless to say, I probably won’t survive in the zombie apocalypse for very long. So zombies and I have this long standing truce where I’ll try and enjoy them as a novelty horror item, instead of considering all the possibilities that might change humans into mindless undying cannibals. But this perspective shifted when I started watching the show “The Walking Dead”, sure it involves zombies, but it’s more of a drama with zombies as a backdrop.

That’s exactly how I felt about This is Not a Test, it uses zombies as a stressor in the background, but what we’re really focusing on is human interactions. It does however follow the usual struggle for survival, barricades and mad dashes formula that is common in zombie movies - but really what else do you do in that kind of situation? So the world has ended, these six students take refuge in their high school. You’d think that not much could happen in a safely barricaded building with food and water right? Boy was I ever wrong.

The cover for This is Not a Test is perfect for the book, but it creeps me out so much! The hair whipping in the wind, and covering the face makes me wonder if she’s human, or if once that hair passes it’s going to be this maggot riddled face with milky dead eyes, and a snapping hungry mouth. The spray of blood throughout the book makes me more and more sure it’s the latter.

The story starts by introducing us to Sloane Price, sitting in a bathtub with her fingers tracing her veins contemplatively. I could immediately pick up on the dark picture that Summers was drawing for the reader. Sloane’s so desolate in her existence, you could feel how bad her life was in her words, thoughts and actions - I craved to know what made her this way, and it doesn’t take long for readers to be introduced to the bane of her existence.

Everything starts spiralling downward fast as infected reanimated neighbours start knocking down doors and crashing through windows in their quest for flesh. Sloane makes a break for it into the streets, and winds up with a rag tag group of teenagers back at their high school days later. But Sloane’s lost the will to live, and when you find out why, you really can’t blame her. You’d think committing suicide during a zombie attack would be simple, but what I really loved about Sloane was that while she didn’t value her life anymore, she wasn’t going to take anyone else’s life away in her bid to die.

The cast of secondary characters are so colorful in their personalities, and role in the group.

There’s Cary - the stoner turned impressively awesome zombie apocalypse survivalist (see video games will totally pay off one day) and impromptu leader. He’s made some tough decisions to get them that far, and for that long - it’s difficult to argue with the results, but not everyone’s happy with his form of leadership and it becomes one of the main points of tension in the group.

Rhys the good looking, bad boy who amazingly harbours some serious bludgeoning skills and the fortitude to do some really risky but really brave acts, especially when it comes to Sloane. Sloane’s penchant for wanting to die takes these two through some really tense situations that end up bringing them closer together in really unexpected ways. He acts as Cary’s second in command, but to me he seems the most rational of the group when it comes to making decisions.

Then there’s the twins Trace and Grace. Trace is the classic jock of the school, so he has some serious roid rage at times that makes him just as scary as a zombie, but deep down inside I think he’s just really a scared little boy that wants his family to be safe. Grace on the other hand - who is just as popular as her brother, tended to be the calming balm to the group. She would soothe and look at the bright side of things, and pushed forward.

It’s just not a zombie apocalypse without the snivelling, psychologically traumatized kid. Enter Harrison, the youngest of the group and just about as useful as throwing marshmallows at attacking zombies.

While Summers presented an eclectic group, each had a distinct voice in the story, and soon I was wondering what their back story was, and how they managed to join up with this group. Summers definitely didn’t disappoint in this aspect and we got some really jaw dropping reveals that end up forever shifting the group dynamic. The writing style fits this situation perfectly, it’s blunt and to the point with moments of dizzying panic and introspection in just the right parts.

At one point in the story, Sloane remarks something along the lines that this whole situation feels like a reality show, and that’s likely the best way to describe what happens in this school. It’s like a mix of Survivor and Big Brother. They have to work together to survive, but there’s also relationship drama, trust issues, back stabbing, people forming secret alliances and challenges where if they don’t figure out the problem it could literally mean death. And instead of a cushy million dollars at the end, they’ll be lucky to survive the night.

I couldn’t really predict where this story was going, everyday with this group was an adventure to read about. It’s a bit slow to start, and there’s lulls in between the action, but Summers takes the reader through a gruesome gauntlet at the end where she sprinkles bits of hope and savage desperation that will really make you question what will you fight for when the world ends.

Overall: 4/5 Hot Cups of Tea!
I went into this thinking it’d be just another zombie horror story, but it was a surprisingly thought provoking story. It’s definitely a must read for fans of The Walking Dead! 

Also, my 6 Months blogging celebration giveaway is still going on for another 9 days, so be sure to enter Here

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