This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers isn’t a zombie book so much as a zombie-framing device used to explore the difficulties of making yourself vulnerable in front of someone- of communication pitfalls and the numbing effects of trauma. There are people that believe trauma builds character. Case and point for Hold Still by Nina LaCour and Silence by Natasha Preston. But, as a person who has experienced more emotional and psychological pain than most people experience in their entire life, that is not the case. Trauma does not build character. But how someone responds to trauma is the true and most telling test of character.
Does this seem like I’m going off on a tangent? I’m not, it’s related to the book-scouts honour. But let’s get a little context:
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?
Naturally, Sloane is not a fan of emotional outpourings. Her father has been physically abusing Sloane and her sister for years and the two of them forged and intensely close bond that never allowed anyone else in.After her sister runs away, leaving Sloane in the path of her father’s rage, she had no support system in place to fill the gap and became suicidal.
Then the infection hit.
For me, this was more a book about sheer will rather than a straight up post-apocalyptic fiction. The will to live versus the will to die in the face of the end of….well everything. It was psychologically grueling. Sloane’s pain from her sister’s departure bleeds through the pages in places but then there are times when she is so cold and detached about her narration. This is because she has her mind made up. She’s resolved. It was hard for me to read a times, reopening scabbed-over wounds. In Sloane, Summers has created a character that stabbed me right in the chest. I could feel the relentless ache in her that hit way too close to home and at times, I truly did not want to continue in fear of a relapse. It’s painfully realistic, all the most powerful things left unspoken. The most profound silences between the scenes.
I’m in a little bit in awe with this book
I was exhausted by the time I finished reading this book. Mentally, physically, psychologically, just wrung out. But I was compelled read the sequel. .
I decided to review both of them at the same time because the second book was a mere 96 pages long. Waaaaay too short for my liking, but I’ll get into that a bit later.
Rhys and Sloane are headed for a safe haven when they get separated along the way. Rhys is determined to reunite with Sloane until he discovers people who might need him more–people who offer him the closest he’ll get to everything he’s lost, if they can just hold on long enough. Rhys thinks he has what it takes to survive and find the girl he lost, but in a world overrun by the dead, there are no guarantees and the next leg of his journey will test him in unimaginable ways.
The follow-up novella is more of a typical zombie-apocalypse story than its predecessor, namely because Rhys narrates the story. Which is a good thing. It would have diluted the effect of the first novel to have continued on that trajectory.The use of the zombies as a background foil to the real-world was a clever twist. As with This is Not a Test one of the most interesting things about Summers’ writing is her attention to detail- specific details that are usually glossed over in lieu of action. Take for instance this scene (that had me giggling which seemed absurd to me:
“I have to piss,” I mutter.
It takes her a minute and for that minute, my face burns and it all seems too goddamn stupid to be embarrassed about, but it’s what I’m not saying that’s making it uncomfortable. I have to go to the bathroom and I don’t want to die and then come back with my dick out, so…
She always has that most chilling descriptions of scenes. Take this description for example:
The entire town must be here.
Here. A war was lost here, its victors still here, gazing at what’s left of the battlefield. Their backs are to us and church, church is in my head. I remember standing for the hymns and all those people in front of me, backs to me, and I couldn’t see their faces but I knew.
I knew they were opening their mouths.
The dynamic between Sloane and Rhys is realistic in the sense that these two people don’t know each other very well but have shared experiences that have created a superficial bond between them.
There is great tension in this sequel. The tension comes from not knowing someone well enough to anticipate their reactions to things, the There’s great action too. There are times when it gets hairy and honestly thought Rhys or Sloane was going to die. I appreciate Summers’ trend of throwing a wrench in YA fiction, typical for it’s happy endings.
Oh wait! This novella does even have an ending. I really hope there is another book. There has to be.