This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
Published: 2012, St. Martin's Griffin
Genre: Young Adult Post-Apocalyptic, Contemporary
Source: Library book
Source: Library book
Waiting around to be saved is like waiting to die and I have done more of both than anyone else in the room.
I have an announcement to make: I have read my first ever zombie novel! And I've found an issues-driven book that I actually enjoyed. Two awesome firsts that I was able to get from this amazing book, This is Not a Test.
According to Sloane Price, she's been dead for the past six months. Ever since her older sister Lily went away without her, leaving Sloane home alone with their abusive father. All that's left for Sloane to do is kill herself so that her body can be as dead as her mind and emotions are. But then something completely unexpected happens: her town is overrun by a zombie invasion. Sloane wonders if she's already dead and simply experiencing a bizarre dream. By the time she's realized that everything happening is real, she's already found herself to be part of a small group that's barricaded itself in the local high school while the zombies continue to kill outside. Paired with teenagers intent on survival, Sloane realizes that her death will not be an easy thing to accomplish after all.
The main conflict of our protagonist Sloane is not how to survive amidst a zombie invasion, but whether there is anything left to live for anymore. She's been contemplating this dilemma for months now and has come to the conclusion that she no longer wants to live. Although she clearly has a lot of issues, Sloane is a great protagonist. I feel like most zombie novels focus on the protagonist's struggle for survival against the undead. While there are instances of Sloane physically fighting or running away from the zombies, her struggle is fundamentally different at the core. The zombie invasion could have been an easy way for her to die, but things become much more complicated than she first imagines. Sloane's not strong and tries to distance herself from the others who are not willing to die without a fight. Yet some of their mentality cannot help but rubbing off on her, and she's forced to feel guilt as she sees the pain that the others endure. She may be suicidal, but Sloane is very compassionate and really considers and values everyone else's life. Sloane's initial detachment does not work very well, and by considering the well-being of everyone else, she is forced to come to terms with her own issues and beliefs. I love how Sloane is a peripheral character. It would have been so easy to focus on the "leader" in this story, but from her place in the group to her painful internal struggle, Sloane definitely offers an interesting perspective.
While I didn't necessarily like all of the characters trapped in close quarters with her, I appreciated the fact that I was able to develop a pretty good understanding of each of them. All of the characters can fall into stereotypes: Cary, the troubled leader, Rhys, the rebel hiding a serious secret, Trace, the strong and argumentative almost-antagonist, Grace, the sweet girl, and Harrison, the obligatory helpless character (and can I say I am so happy that he is not a girl?). But the characters are so, so much more than the simple sum of their parts. They're all so incredibly real and mutual-faceted and I got a distinct character portrait of each one.
Considering that this is a book about a zombie apocalypse, this book does not feature much action and is very much internalized. This book is very much about human dynamics, and it was so fascinating to read how their dire situation affects six very different characters. The live-or-die situation causes some characters to act out, others to become involved in romantic interactions, and all to question each other and their motives. Despite being placed in a very high-stakes situation, I found all the characters to exhibit very believable teen characteristics.
I actually think that the guise of a zombie apocalypse is the perfect way to induce issues-wary readers to give a more heavy contemporary read a try. I generally do not read issues books simply because I have no interest in that sort of thing. I think the only book I've read this year that could be considered an issues-driven book is Sarah Dessen's Just Listen. And that didn't work out so well for me. This is Not a Test is incredibly issues-driven: Sloane is a product of parental abuse and suicidal, and the entire group of students faces mistrust and despair as each tries to survive. For the most part I enjoyed reading about all of these issues, but I think that the zombie aspect provided some much-needed distance for me. I know that there are tons of readers out there who wouldn't need that additional context to enjoy a novel discussing these issues, but I am not one of them.
This is Not a Test is a disconcerting and dark novel. It forces the readers to reflect upon some very heavy topics, and does not spare the bits of pain and discomfort necessary in such a novel. For those readers looking for a darker read with an intense character study that makes you experience so many feelings, this may just be the book you need.