Author: Courtney Summers
Publication Date: 6/19/12
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Blurb: 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?
Because I’m a fancy creative post writer, I thought I’d start this off with a quote from someone whose opinion I really trust:
“Can you imagine what she's going to do with zombie survival?!! I bet it's going to be gruesome. :D”
You know what? I really do love the sound of my own voice. You are so, so right, me of approximately five months ago.
Of course, this is Courtney Summers so the “gruesome” part of this book doesn’t arrive with the zombie apocalypse; it takes place within the grasping, desperate, damaged minds of the survivors. Which I think is a common thread in all the best zombie novels, really. Zombies are compelling in that they speak to some of our deepest fears; for example, that our bodies could become vacant killing machines, piloted by something other than ourselves. It’s a complete loss of free will. But in some sense, zombies can easily be a stand-in for any mass disaster or plague. What’s most compelling is the reaction of the human survivors to the zombies.
This book has one of the best opening chapters I’ve read in a really long time. It is completely subtle but also utterly horrifying and absorbing. We are introduced to the main character Sloane in one brief, emotionally intense snapshot. Her life is a confining, meaningless misery and now that her sister is gone, she doesn’t see the point in continuing. She’s just about to finally let go when something happens – a shattering window, a crazed woman, a mad rush of humanity outside. And then we are pushed forward in time by seven days, as Sloane and five other survivors find shelter in their high school. What happened in those seven days was ugly and brutal, but we are not shown the details fully. We are given a front row seat to the more interesting part – the aftermath.
I’ve long admired Courtney Summers’ writing, because she really has a talent for getting in deep with the darker emotions and portraying them with such stark honesty that it’s impossible not to be affected. But in this book I feel like she’s really grown as a writer, finding that perfect balance between subtlety and story-telling. She hits us with bright pieces of emotion and action, but she never fills in all the blanks. It's subtle but evocative enough that we are compelled to contribute – we have to put ourselves into the story. She can lead us down the path, but we have to use our own emotions and experiences to make the final steps. I think that’s one of the hallmarks of a great writer – because in the end, no writer can complete a story alone. No writer can describe an emotion with such perfection that someone who’s never felt it before will suddenly understand it. The best writers lead us to our own emotions, and the best stories are collaborations between writers and readers. I think that Courtney Summers really masters that with This Is Not a Test.
And of course, this woman writes my favorite kind of endings – dark but ambiguously hopeful, with realistic growth in the main character – perfection.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Florence + The Machine – Never Let Me Go
And now I need to make an announcement. Attention everyone: this is not a test. Go crazy for this book. Bloggers: it’s time to light up the super special ARC signal in the sky. Courtney Summers fans: do whatever you have to do - crack each other’s heads open and feast on the goo inside if you must. Just get this book. This is not a test people!