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Review: This Is Not a Test

This  Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers was released in the U.S. on June 19, 2012 in paperback and eBook formats. It is currently available to order online in both formats at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Published by St. Martin’s Griffin, the print edition is 336 pages.

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Goodreads description:

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.

When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

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When the end of the world comes, what will you do? Will you fight to stay alive or will you just give up?

When all hope seems lost, when everyone you love is gone, when the end seems inevitable will you give in to despair? Or will you fight with everything you have to survive, even if it’s just for one more day?

And if the end is coming for you, will you stand up to it or will you put someone else in its path? If it’s you or them, who will you choose?

When surviving is all you have left and your humanity is put to the test, is it a test you will fail or one you will pass?

***

Author Courtney Summers’ This Is Not a Test is a gorgeously written, hauntingly beautiful, chilling and heartbreaking story of survival in the face of incredible odds where only the faintest glimmer of hope remains.

Set in a world that may very well be at its end – where the dead have risen, driven only by their mindless hunger, where just one bite will infect the living, turning them into zombies with the same need, and where the only way to survive is to be strong, to be smart, to have luck on your side, to be willing to sacrifice someone else to save yourself, and most important of all to have the will to live – this story is riveting, fragile, gruesome and unendingly sad.

Through each of the six characters in the story, This Is Not a Test shows humans at their best and worst. It shows their strengths, their cruelty, their kindness, their fears, their determination, their need for togetherness, their loyalty and their capacity for both love and hate. And it shows just how delicate that balance is between being willing to fight to survive and being ready to give up.

The story is told through the eyes of the main character, Sloane Price, a girl who is full of sorrow and despair and who has already lost the will to live at the outset of the story, before the world has fallen to pieces. A girl who is willing to give up her own life, but does not want to be responsible for costing someone theirs. Especially if that someone has something to lose, has someone to love, who still has hope and is willing to fight to stay alive.

This is not your typical zombie story. There are no obvious heroes. There are no characters who go down in a blaze of glory. This is not an action-packed, zombie-filled adventure with a blistering pace. The characters are real. They’re young. They’re afraid. They’re vulnerable. The story has a realistic quality to it. It is frightening. It is horrific. And the end of the world setting provides a bleak and chilling backdrop. But its focus is on the characters and their reactions to this new reality they find themselves in.

Courtney Summers does an exceptional job in developing her characters, on creating the dynamic and then changing that as circumstances change, and on writing a story that connects readers to a main character who could be seen as difficult to relate to, to understand. Her writing style is achingly beautiful and haunting, with passages that are drenched with the emptiness, confusion and loneliness of the main character. Passages that don’t shout, but nevertheless deliver their messages loud and clear.

The easy flow and simply stunning writing are a wonderful contrast to the horrors in this story and world. And within this incredibly popular genre with so many stories that lack originality, the author has managed to create one that is wonderfully different and truly sets itself apart.

This Is Not a Test is an absolute must read for fans of zombie stories with a bit more depth, contemporary young adult fiction with a darker edge, and for readers who are simply looking for a brilliantly written, character-driven story of just what people will be willing to do to survive when the world falls down around them.

Reviewer gives this book…

Like In-N-Out Burger‘s infamous secret menu this one deserves my off-the-menu 6 star rating.

On a personal note:

This book was such a complete and total surprise. I expected it to be amazing. I didn’t expect it to be as amazing as it was. Or the kind of amazing it was. I expected horror. I expected fear. I expected it to be gruesome and terrifying.

I did not expect it to have the kind of brilliant writing it did. I did not expect to make a connection with this story. I did not expect to be left with the feeling that I do when reading those contemporary stories that have an underlying misery, sadness, depression, despair. I did not expect to feel the kind of hopelessness I felt for the main character, Sloane, as I did. And I did not expect to be hopeful for her.

While this story’s setting was a world overrun by the dead, it was much more a character story than I thought it would be. Even with all the hints that the description gave. But I had not read this author’s writing before, so I didn’t know her style when I started reading. And I didn’t know it would be the kind of style that resonates with me. Clings to me.

I read this book in one sitting. I couldn’t get enough. When I put it down, all I could say was, “Wow.” I was stunned. My mind was blown. I was utterly drained, wrung-out, desolate, forlorn. Yes, I did feel a sense of emptiness when I finished reading this book. And I still feel that emptiness.

I cannot get over how incredibly amazing and brilliant this story was. With the typical framework for a zombie story – a small group of people, trapped and fighting for survival – I did not expect it to stand out. I just expected it to be entertaining in a gory sort of way. That’s it.

But the writing took me so far away from noticing that the structure was similar to those other stories. The dynamic was so very different between the characters because of the main character’s distance. And this story made me so sad in the way that contemporary stories with tragic and broken characters do. I did not anticipate that element in a story about the world coming to an end.

So, yeah, this book was beautiful and horrific. It was gruesome. It was tragic. It was devastating and heartbreaking. And this story will stick with me because of the writing, because of the main character, for a very long time.

***

Favorite passage:

I fell in love with the author’s writing. There were way too many passages that stuck with me to say that I have just one favorite. And quite a few were just too revealing to spoil them here. But this one I find to be absolutely gorgeous…

They also don’t tell you about how you can share your deepest secrets with someone, kiss them, and the next hour it’s like there’s nothing between you because not everything can mean something all the time or you’d be crushed under the weight of it. They don’t tell you how you will float through days. You autopilot, here but not really here, sleepwalking, and then every so often you are awake.

***

And because I love this book trailer, which is completely awesome in a totally different way….

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