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ARC Review: This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Title: This Is Not a Test
Story Arc: Standalone
Publication: June 19, 2012 by St. Martin's Griffin
Paperback: 322 pages
Genre: Apocalyptic, Paranormal, Thriller, Sci-Fi, Contemporary, Horror, Zombies
Age Group: Young Adult
Content: Profanity, Sexual Scenes, Blood, Gruesome Deaths
Source: St. Martin's Griffin via NetGalley | Quote(s): Yes

Lily, I woke up and the last piece of my heart disappeared. I opened my eyes and I felt it let go.

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?
This shizz is FOR SERIOUS
Courtney Summers is honest and up-front about her shizz. Her writing is brutal and poetic and cutting, but never once do you feel as if she’s beating around the bush. She writes ON THE REAL. This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers is all about REAL characterizations, actions, feelings, and issues. Every word is like a brass-knuckled punch to the heart. It exposes you, it wounds you. Each word knocks those pretty rose-colored glasses right off your face and now you’re seeing the world for what it really is—a place gone cold, hellish where only the tiniest glimmers of hope survive to tantalize those struggling to reach for it. I’ve never encountered a writer quite like Summers, a shaper of words so beautiful and impactful that tell the story of a disturbing girl ready to let the world go at the same time it falls apart, crumbles beneath the feet of five other teenagers oblivious to the true meaning of pain, of inescapable imprisonment.

Summers’s prose is telling, insightful, and gorgeously dark, uncovering a world in which fate has dealt some a cruel hand. The zombieness? That’s only the HALF of it. They’re thudding and moaning outside the school, sending chills and things down all of our spines, but there aren’t as many close-ups as you might think. AND THAT’S OKAY. If The Breakfast Club had been about kids stuck at school because of ZOMBIES as opposed to detention, it would’ve escalated so fraking much on the coolness scale. Which I had, before This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers, thought utterly impossible. These characters Summers shoves us into meeting come face-to-face with dizzying suffering and critical, harsh loss in a way no one should. They’re without parents, without hope, without freedom. They are entombed in the school, in their rage, in their agony, in their fear, and are forced to endure the suffocating, maddening reality of it.

At the end of the day, each of them want to survive what seems to be the end of all days.

May I remind you
Grace, Trace, Harrison, Cary, Sloane, and Rhys? They’re just KIDS, for crying out loud. One character later says something about teenage ingenuity, and that’s EXACTLY it. These six kids manage to escape the zombie population devastating their small town and fortify their hiding place all on their own. The fact that they even came up with the high school on their own? Serious braniac points. God knows I would’ve been slaughtered sometime around page zero on account of my lack of BRAINS, or rather my ability to use them, because the fact that I HAVE THEM and THEY WORK RIGHT is what would drive the zombies bananas for my body.

If it wasn’t bad enough that we’re talking about six teenagers stranded at their local high school as they await rescue, there’s all this crazy interpersonal stuff between them. Starting with the fact that the group started as eight. And in between that and the tail end of it is drowning guilt, mourning, suicidal tendencies, and unbelievable loss. Each of these six people have so many emotions locked up inside of them, all these secrets and horrific thoughts, that it’s no wonder there’s so much DRAMA. Although I’m not talking about angsty teen television show drama but HOLY FRAK THERE ARE ZOMBIES OUTSIDE AND PEEPS ARE DEAD, DYING, OR UNDYING EVERYWHERE drama. The sort of bulletin you pay attention to, the sort that keeps you engrossed and appalled and tense all the way through.

Death, and how the HELL romance?
Ya’ll, some goose-bumpy TERRIFYING things go down in This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers. And not all of those things are about the zombies gnawing at metal and throwing themselves bodily at all the exits to get inside the building. There’s a lot of bad blood mingling into the group, carrying over more toward the testosterone end of said group. Poor Sloane, who has suffered immense and unimaginable physical and verbal abuse all of her life, is stuck amongst a bunch of loud criers and even louder yellers. The arguments, the punching, the GUN WAVING, all of it, makes for a very tense, be-on-your-guard sort of atmosphere, because every shaky second you have to wonder who’s willing to pull the metaphorical and literal trigger. Who’s crazy and is slowly going crazy, who’s being eaten alive by guilt and by sheer terror. Which is what makes This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers so thrilling and eerie. Because on the human scope, some of these characters are more vicious than the zombies.

BUT LET’S NOT FORGET ABOUT THE ZOMBIES. Because you will get eaten and ripped apart. And DIE. There are SO many close calls that the shakes take over, the shock, and the panic. It’s not that you’re so close to the characters you feel all this, but Courtney Summers manages to bring you astonishingly strong, perfect images of everything that happens. Then, you’re there, you’re witnessing AND experiencing, which lends the book that much more POWER and DEPTH. I felt closer to the situation than the actual characters some of the time because the imagery was so overpowering.

With all this death and decay permeating the plot, you might be wondering, however, how the hell a romance can spark at all? Half of the time, this group seems more insane and twitchy than anything else. The truth is, though, that there’s a lot of emotional depth as well. Sloane and crew have seen and done unspeakably horrible things, which is the reason for all those shadows on the mind and unsaid secrets in the air. Everyone’s once lily-white hands are stained with deep crimson in some haunting way. There’s no going back for the awful things they had, or felt they had, to do. And this is what ties some of the characters closer, knitting them together with blood and devastation and endless remorse. Rhys sure the heck KNOWS something is very wrong with Sloane, whom they stumbled across and enfolded in thinking she was trying to get up as opposed to trying to let go. With a couple suicide attempts under her belt, Rhys is wary and suspicious and angry with this girl he’s always been aware of. What he doesn’t know is that her sister’s escape plan had actually consisted of perfection for ONE and not two, that her father from the time she can remember has beat every ounce of hope and security right out of her.

And when he does know these things? There’s softness, gentleness, tenderness, and all those lovely feelings that couple with his protection of her and loyalty to her that make him so subtly swoonworthy. He's hard and serious and guilty of so much, but he’s compassionate and thoughtful too. Sloane may have to wake up on her own, but Rhys is certainly tempting her out of her unnervingly cold and lonely sleep.

Why you no special shelf?
This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers is damn near complete and stunning perfection. It’s emotional, tangible, genuine, and beautiful. Each chapter was a shock to the system, constantly keeping me on my toes and taking me by surprise. The story BORDERS on special shelf. But, if there’s one thing I irrevocably dislike, it’s VAGUE ENDINGS.

When a book like This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers is so tormenting and stunning and intense, I feel slightly cheated when I’m not given anything conclusive to hold onto. There’s no clearly defined path, no concrete answer to the big WILL THEY MAKE IT? Will they want to? What now? Granted, this ending is by far one of the better ones in the vague setting, and there IS a hint of closure in what’s written by Sloane on a very important piece of paper she’s carried with her throughout the story that stretches after the last word. I wanted a bit more.
He keeps his eyes off me until I tell him, "I wouldn't have let you die out there. I know you think I would have, but I wouldn't have."
"But you went out there to die."
"I wouldn't have let you die. When I saw them coming for you, I ran to you, to save you," I say. "I wouldn't have left you like that. Not like she did to me." I swallow hard. "She always said I'd die without her and she left anyway."
"But you didn't die," he says.
"I did," I say. "I'm just waiting for the rest of me to catch up." (72%)
Rating: Perfect Bed Partner

With all the expected trappings of a zombie survival novel, Courtney Summers manages to take a concept so familiar to us and twist it so that it’s not the zombies we’re most fearful of but of fellow human beings capable of so much more atrociousness, viciousness than the walking undead who constantly fascinate us. This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers is more focused on the emotional upheaval caused by and before the zombie epidemic, and the extremes that come with all that packed-in turmoil. Summers invades the mind with horrific scenes and disturbing imagery, all the while maintaining this dark, eerie beauty in the words that make This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers a story to be experienced and absorbed rather than to be merely read and witnessed.

Got something specific in mind? Dare I believe I might NOT have covered something you wish to know? If so, let me know down in the comments section. Don't be shy!


Jenna Klein said...

Stunning review...that's the only word I can think of. I hate zombie novels. I guess I've never really given them a chance, but the idea to me is worse than corny. I will definitely be picking this one up. I love the idea that the six kids' problems are so real they keep you flipping pages and that the writing blows your mind. Can't wait to read it. Hope the author uses some of your review for a blurb on her website!

Bookworm1858 said...

I'm not a big zombie fan but I am looking forward to this one as I do admire Summers' writing. This is a really great review that makes me anxious about the zombies but still dying to read this book!

Celine @ Forget-Me-Not said...

ASHER. ASHER. ASHER. Can I just say AMAZING a billion times? YOUR REVIEW = EPIC. Seriously, you convinced me 110% to buy this book like ASAP. I've been hearing great things about This Is Not A Test and been wanting to buy it myself and then after reading your review, I JUST HAVE TO BUY IT ASAP. I haven't read anything by Courtney Summers before and haven't read many books about zombies but I CANNOT WAIT TO READ THIS IS NOT A TEST!

Awesome review, Asher! ♥ So glad you enjoyed it! :)

Liz @ Planet Print said...

Vague endings, nooo! I seriously don't like them. It's why I've been put off this book...but the rest of your review is now telling me I must read it. It sounds freaking awesome. I am torn. What do I do? Do I overcome my dislike for vague endings and read it? Damn. I need to go think about this now :P. Thanks for the awesome review!

Asher Knight said...

Wow, thank you so much! Trust me when I say that THIS particular zombie novel isn't anything like you've read in the genre. Because it's far from just merely about zombies. It's about emotional turning points too dire go back from, about human behavior and what we're willing to do to survive, who we grow close to in a time of utter disaster. The survivor problems as well as their emotional issues keep you GLUED. Aw, and again thank you, Jenna <3

Asher Knight said...

I love zombies and I wasn't at all disappointed by the fact that there were less than expected. Contrarily, I imagine peeps who aren't really fans of them will take comfort in their infrequent appearance throughout the book. If you're looking for something deeply, disturbingly dark with beautiful prose and stunning emotional development, you'll want to read this one. I'm telling you it's like The Breakfast Club meets The Walking Dead.

Asher Knight said...

CELINE. YAY. I'm so happy you loved reading it! I WANT to convince everyone to read this book, it's so fabulous. IT DOESN'T DISAPPOINT. And I'm totally unbiased because this was my first Summers book. AND SHE WOWED ME. Buy it, definitely. It's dark and gripping without TOTALLY turning your insides out. Thanks, Celine! <3

Asher Knight said...

Don't worry! It's not TOO vague. I've read worse, and I'm POSITIVE you have as well. I just wanted a bit more from the ending because it isn't conclusive ENOUGH. But this book is amazeballs, Liz. HAVE TO READ THIS BAD BOY ASAP.

Mindful Musings said...

AAAH!!! I am CRAZY stupid excited to read this book. I've heard a lot of great things about it, and your review...just...WOW! Great characterization? Hit-you-where-it-hurts emotions? ZOMBIES?!?! I am SOLD!!!

Heidi said...

Okay, so, I LOVE this review! The part about The Breakfast Club? Totally and literally laughed out loud, and then got really quiet thinking 'you know, that's a good point'. The one aspect where I differ from you though is the ending. I LOVED the ending. I love when things are left open, and I felt like this one was done perfectly. I can see how it would bug people who aren't okay with that though.

Asher Knight said...

CRAZY STUPID EXCITED? So was I. Then I started feeling a little reluctant and I gave it a push. And now? I feel DUMB for waiting this long. It was so, so good. There's a TON of hit-you-where-it-hurts opportunities, trust me. I really felt for these guys. I CAN'T TELL YOU HOW HAPPY I AM THAT YOU'RE IN LOVE ALREADY!

Asher Knight said...

INSTANTLY reminded me of The Breakfast Club. I love that movie so fierce so that I can say that MAKES THIS BOOK THAT MUCH MORE EPIC. The ending took me a couple times to read in order to get but when I did it meant more, and yet it STILL wasn't enough for me. I'm glad you dug it though. Which means that the book was perfection for you. It DID get you out of that reading funk a while ago, after all ;D

Andrea Modolo said...

I was so mad about the vague ending as well! What's going to happen?! Your review definitely hits the nail on the head, everything you say is true. Summers' writing is amazing and keeps you creeped out the whole time. I loved this book and that there was so much more to what was happening that the zombies outside (at times I actually forgot about the zombies I was so immersed in what was happening with the characters, and then it hits you).

Asher Knight said...

THANK YOU. It's sooooo so good to hear I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE who thought that. I needed a BIT more closure than that. I was so scared of THE PEOPLE rather than zombies. Things were so chilling and eerie and I had GOOSEBUMPS. Yet, at the same time it was all this emotion too. There was so much going on. LOVED.

April C said...

Why, thank you for the linkage.

I would have liked a more clear ending as well, but at the same time, I guess maybe life doesn't always have closure so this reflects that.

ALSO word about this being real and cutting and poetic. Even though there were zombies, all the emotions and the human interactions felt so authentic.

Awesome review as always.

Asher Knight said...

April, your comments just shove smiles onto my face. NO PROB. Your review was definitely one of the ones to convince me to get going on this bad boy.

EXCELLENT POINT. I didn't even see that until now. But this book is so true to life, I should have. I can't help but grasp for a tiny bit more. I'm greedy like that ;D

YES YES YES. Thanks, April <3

Mindful Musings said...

I totally bought this book the other day while I was in B&N. Now I just need to catch up on my review books so I can actually read it! Lol.