Friday, June 15, 2012

Review: This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Tags: YA, apocalyptic, zombies, suicide


The apocalypse has befallen the world, or at least on the town of Cortege. Zombies have risen, destroyed families, sent survivors scrambling into whatever secure ground they can reach. Sloane Price camps out at the local high school with five other teens, but the zombie invasion is merely an inconvenient detour for her, as she has been planning to end her life soon anyway. Trapped among the tensions and budding connections of a group of six, Sloane is forced to rethink what she believes about the value of life.


Courtney Summers’ trademark sparse yet hard-hitting prose meets the walking dead. Sound like either the next best thing or the stuff that makes you squirm in discomfort? It was a…strange…pairing in my opinion, and I’m still not sure what to think of it, but THIS IS NOT A TEST was a quick and intense that was still hard for me to put down, despite some of my hesitations toward it.

There were many moments while I was reading when I stopped, pressed my palms into my eyes, and thought again how much subjective overkill of content this book contained. Sloane is a suicidal teenage girl with an abusive family history and a missing older sister. Sound like the beginning of a YA contemporary novel to you? It did to me too. Which was why I found the choice to make zombies a huge part of the problem in THIS IS NOT A TEST a rather strange one. The zombie premise made the book read sort of like a giant metaphor for not killing yourself and whatnot, and masked—at least for me—the subtlety of character development that a sophisticated contemporary YA allows.

It’s hard to not get fed up with the characters in THIS IS NOT A TEST. Sloane has a sort of narration that can dip into stream-of-consciousness at times, which combined with The Zombie Situation gave me headaches sometimes. (There are zombies. I just wanted some direct prose sometimes, y’know?) Other characters are even less likable, hung up on past events or sniffling at every single new thing that goes wrong. There were large chunks of the book that felt like characters simply shouting at one another, to no avail.

On the other hand, even if I wanted to grab some characters by the scruffs of their necks and drop-kick them outside to be at the mercy of the zombies, it’s hard for me to say whether or not this would be the natural behaviors of a group of six people stuck together in the middle of an apocalyptic situation. So I, as a reader, was torn between my frustration with some of the characters’ pettiness and the sobering thought that even I would be like those characters in that situation.

THIS IS NOT A TEST is not my favorite YA take on zombies, nor is it my favorite of Summers’ objectively accomplished novels: the strange juxtaposition of the supernatural with a setup that seems more ideal for a contemporary YA story didn’t quite work for me. However, if you’re a big fan of Summers’ writing style, don’t mind reading about zombies, and are interested in the details and behaviors of human beings in apocalyptic situations, THIS IS NOT A TEST will be just the thing for a dark and stormy night’s read.

St. Martin's Griffin / June 19, 2012 / Paperback / 336pp. / $9.99

e-galley received for review from NetGalley and publisher.


  1. I disagree. I thought the only strange thing about the pairing of zombies and Summers' style was how well it worked. But I think it's good to disagree.

  2. Interesting. I haven't read anything by Summers, so I'm not familiar with her style. But very intrigued with this one.

    Great review.

  3. This really does sound like an interesting novel. I haven't read anything by Courtney Summers, but she is one of the authors I've been meaning to check out this year.

  4. Good zombie YA fiction is hard to come by. This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers is an attempt to rectify that fact. We are introduced to Sloane, the protagonist, who has been beaten repeatedly by her father and is completely emotionally dependent on her sister Lily, who has just run away and has left Sloane behind. Sloane is about to commit suicide when the infection takes hold of the rest of the town, converting everyone into zombies, except a select few teenagers who have holed up in their high school. What follows is a combination of a horror movie and Lord of the Flies.


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