Courtney Summers – This is Not a Test

This month was zombie month (even in Discworld) and so I read a few books that show zombies in very different ways and from different perspectives. I got action zombies in Feed, zombies who live like humans in Witches Abroad, and then I read this book which almost doesn’t feature zombies at all but deals with them in a quiet, emotional way.

this is not a testTHIS IS NOT A TEST
by Courtney Summers

Published by: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2012
ISBN: 0312656742
paperback: 323 pages
Standalone
My rating: 5,5/10

First sentence: Lily, I woke up and the last piece of my heart disappeared.

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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This is a book which starts out incredibly strong, then slowly loses momentum, only to end in the most unspectacular way you can imagine. A good book should get better the longer you read. This story had its finest moments right in the beginning and just lost me along the way. Of course, the final impression is the one that lasts and mine was a clear meh.

Sloane Price gets up to have breakfast and from the moment she steps into the kitchen, you can feel the tension in the air. It becomes clear that if she doesn’t eat her (burnt) toast, something terrible will happen. Her father, brief as his appearance may be, feels menacing from the get-go. I was impressed with how quickly Courtney Summers managed to create such intense atmosphere and suspense. You want to know what is going on in this broken family – the zombies just happen to show up just at that moment.

The bulk of the story takes place in Cortege High School where Sloane and five other teenagers managed to barricade themselves from the zombies. They have water, they have food, they have mattresses to sleep on. But anyone who ever had to spend an extended amount of time with five more-or-less strangers in more-or-less close quarters, knows that you don’t need a zombie apocalypse for conflicts to happen. These six teenagers vary in personality but sadly, most of them are given only one or two traits (eg. the aggressive one, the “survival specialist”, the crybaby) and stick to them. Sure, there is friction between them but they remain rather pale in comparison to Sloane.

this is not a test cover

She is an intriguing person. Her plan, before the outbreak happened, was to kill herself. And now she is stuck surviving with the others when all she really wants to do is go outside and let one of the zombies kill her. But she doesn’t want anyone else to get killed or hurt. Her inner conflicts are far more interesting than the fights between angry Trace and defensive Cary, for example.

The time spent hiding away in their old school doesn’t just feel like an eternity to the characters. Considering that this is a fairly slim book, it took me a long, long time to finish it. Once a certain point is reached and the mysery of what exactly happened in Sloane’s household is resolved, there remains only one more point of interest. And that is what happened when the children and Trace’s parents were making their way to the school. Said parents died during that journey but the circumstances aren’t all too clear. As soon as this is resolved, however, the story doesn’t have any drive left.

I slogged through the last 75 pages, not really caring about the characters, having a hard time relating to a suicidal 17-year-old girl (even is she is well-written) and wondering how a story like this could end. When I reached that ending, I felt even more let down. I don’t spoil so nothing more will be mentioned but now, about an hour after finishing, my overall feeling is: So what was this all about? Why was this a story worth telling? To read a zombie book that focuses more on the characters’ inner workings and emotion rather than on action scenes or the scientific reason for the zombies’ existence? Maybe. It started out really well, but in the end, this is a book that’s pretty much hit or miss.

RATING:  5,5/10  –  Meh.

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3 thoughts on “Courtney Summers – This is Not a Test

  1. lynnsbooks says:

    Oh no! What a disappointment. I like zombie stories as well and I suppose they have to try and come up with something different but this didn’t really work out did it!
    Lynn 😀

    Like

    • Nadine says:

      It may be my own fault. I put the book away a lot because I was bored and then found it even harder to care about the characters.
      The Book Smugglers, on the other hand, rated this one 9/10.

      Like

  2. Carl V. Anderson says:

    That is too bad, as it sounds like a promising idea. I guess I would prefer a book that gets slowly worse, as I can choose to stop reading it at some point, than one that is amazing right until it all falls apart at the end. That is bitterly disappointing.

    Like

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