In addition to having one of my top ten favorite covers ever, THIS IS NOT A TEST appealed to me because of the seemingly incongruous mix of Courtney Summers and a zombie apocalypse.
All I can say is, it worked.
I was figuring out how to frame this recommendation, and I started to think of how, despite the zombies, a lot of the book centers on the interactions of a group of very different teens stuck in an empty school. Wait, don't I recognize that scenario?
Holy crap, it's The Zombie Breakfast Club.
No, really. It even has a brain (Harrison), an athlete (Trace), a basket case (Sloane, the main character), a princess (Grace), and a criminal (Cary). And we can't forget about Rhys, this Breakfast Club's swoony and sweet sixth member.
I thought I was brilliant for a couple hours, and then I decided to see if I was the first person to compare the book to the iconic movie.
I wasn't, by a long shot.
Despite the comparison's unfortunate lack of originality, it's still accurate, and I think it highlights exactly why I enjoyed THIS IS NOT A TEST so much.
Seriously, how often do you find a character-driven novel set in a zombie apocalypse?
Some reviewers have taken issue with the inclusion of zombies, but I think they add to the story. From the ridiculously intense and chilling first chapter (when main character Sloane realizes that "oh my God those are zombies outside") through to the very end, it feels like a REAL zombie apocalypse. There's a legitimacy to how the characters stumble through survival in the beginning, and how the life-or-death situation doesn't magically make everyone the best possible version of themselves. In fact, it can bring out the worst.
THIS IS NOT A TEST centers on a period of limbo for these characters — they've survived the first few days of the zombies and have found a "safe" place in which to barricade themselves ... for the time being.
They begin processing the reality of the monsters outside, mourning the people they've lost, and figuring out what the heck to do next — all while dealing with the emotional baggage they've each brought to the situation.
Summers does an excellent job encapsulating this tension, but she never lets the zombies stray too far off the page. They're a constant threat, and they appear frequently enough that, despite all the internal drama, the horde is a very real, very hungry, and very vicious external danger.
THIS IS NOT A TEST is messy. It's raw and ugly and painful, both in the literal and emotional sense. I made the mistake of starting it before bed — "just the first chapter" turned into the first 80 pages — and I spent a good half hour staring at the ceiling, completely wired. It's the opposite of a beach read, but I was so engrossed that I brought it with me to the shore and finished it in one sitting. The sun was shining, but in my mind, I was in that school with Sloane, not knowing if I would live or die.
That's my kind of zombie novel.