Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

“This must be what Dorothy felt like, I think. Maybe. If Dorothy was six scared teenagers and Oz was hell.” (This is Not a Test, Courtney Summer.”

It is always assumed that when the zombie apocalypse happens we will do everything in our power to survive, but what if the morning all hell breaks loose, you were already planning to end it all?  That is the superbly unique premise that Courtney Summers brings to us in This is Not a Test, hands down one of the most stunning looks at the ZA I have ever read.

For Sloane Price, the end of the world happened years ago when her mother died and her father decided that her and her sister Lily would be his very own punching bags.  The morning that it happens Sloane is trying to choke down her burnt toast in complete silence in the allotted ten minutes that she has to eat breakfast.  In some ways, the zombie apocalypse brings for her a freedom that she has never known before.  And she, more than anyone, is equipped to live in a world now over run with fear.

She is a part of a group of six teens that end up making their way to the now abandoned local high school.  Here they wander the silent hallways alone, praying that the madness doesn’t break down the doors and sink their teeth into their flesh.  Except Sloane, she often wants to sleep walk into the crowd of teeming zombies, having decided a while to check out.  While everyone else is desperately trying to stay safely in, she is trying to find a way out.

Slowly, as the clock ticks, food supplies dwindle, and the somewhat safety they have come to know in this knew world shatters, they must each decide if they even want to live:  He is “made of the kind of energy people with hope have” notes our very broken Sloane of another character.  She is opposite them in every way and they don’t understand why.

This is Not a Test is a tightly coiled snake waiting to explode; 90% of the book takes place in the high school with nothing but these six characters, proverbial sitting ducks, waiting to see which group, the living or the undead, will outlast the other.  These six teens slowly peel back the layers of each others souls, taking pieces of flesh with them and wounding each other in ways far more devastating then the teeth of a zombie ever could.  And through it all, the thudding on the outside doors pulses with a frenetic energy of fear that threatens to rip through every page – until it finally does and any illusions of safety are ripped away. 

Time and time again, Sloane is forced to decide whether or not she truly wants to live.  This new world is no worse or better than her previous one, just a different version of it.  The monsters may be different, but hers has always been a world filled with monsters.  The ghosts that haunt her mind – her soul – are in some ways so much worse than the monsters waiting outside to eat her flesh. And that is the unique perspective that This is Not a Test brings to the tales of zombie lore: this is a quiet, haunting tale of how for one girl, the world didn’t really change, just the face of the monster did.

It seems weird to say, but This is Not a Test is a beautiful book; it is beautifully written with every page soiled by the pathos of a wounded soul trying to decide whether or not life is even worth fighting for.  It has a slow, languid pace of subtle tension throughout most of the pages, with sudden bursts of fierce and stunning thrills.  And like all good zombie fiction, it makes us pause to consider who the real monsters are: the zombies who have lost all self will and kill because an illness compels them to, or those who remain and are willing to sacrifice anything – or anyone – in order to survive.

I don’t even have the words, the skill, to tell you how rich and amazing this book is.  It has pitch perfect pacing, a richly oppressive atmosphere, and a heartbreaking main character that your just not sure what to hope for her. A definite 5 out of 5 stars and it goes right on my list of Top 10 Zombie books.  Buy it, read it, tell your teens to read it. (This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers is released in June 2012 by St. Martin’s Griffin)