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This Is Not a Test

This is Not a Test - Courtney Summers It was a dark, stormy, creepy day where I found myself opening THIS IS NOT A TEST. Or it might have been, I don’t actually know. But for this review, let’s pretend that it was a day that Edgar Allen Poe would love. I cracked open my Kindle and surrounded myself with pillows, blankets, and warm kitties before I started this one. And maybe when I finished a few days later, after numerous times putting it down and reading other things, I was a bit disappointed. I expected something that would hook me and have…well, zombies. Those were kind of promised in the synopsis after all. Instead, I found a book that was more of a character study in depression, tragedy, trauma, and teenage bickering. It was good, but it just missed that something special I need.THIS IS NOT A TEST follows Sloane, a teenage girl who has battled depression and abuse from her father. Her sister abandoned her and left her alone with their father. But when a plague overwhelms the country, she is forced into the remains of her school with four others (although previous inhabitants are mentioned), where the story begins several days after the end of life as they knew it. Through break-ins, strangers, and fighting, Sloane is forced to confront her own life as she faces death head on.I have never read a book by Courtney Summers before, but I will give her one thing right off the bat – she does not shy away from the dark, looming, and controversial. In THIS IS NOT A TEST, she offers frank discussions on many things that you rarely see in paranormal/science fiction, a genre often times (these days at least) focused on smooching and bad boys. This isn’t a story about zombies as much as it is a story about depression, suicide, and the human condition, which sets it apart in a crowded market.For a story about zombies, this story does not loom on the actual zombies for long. There is mention of a plague, brief images and flashbacks of how it spread, the stories of the kids left in the high school, but this story is about the zombies as a secondary plot point to the drama. And boy, is there drama. I kind of want to describe this book as “Girl Interrupted” meets “Dawn of the Dead”, except without the psych ward and with a lot less action.Summers’ writing remains a distinct lyrical/literary quality. There is no question that she has the skills needed for writing a gritty tale of emotions and drama. For her to tackle a zombie tale with the zombies secondary to the relationships of these survivors required skill, and she proves that she has a strong grasp on this arena.Which brings me to another point in the vein of “narration”. I will just admit it. Suicidal characters generally… Well, let’s just say that I might have slapped Sloane if I was in that school with her. But besides Sloane and her “woe is me, I’ll just kill myself via zombie attack” attitude, I did enjoy several of the background characters. Where Sloane fell victim to Angsty Teenager Syndrome (which was not fully explained by her background, in my opinion – it went above and beyond the call), the classmates around her were fully conceived and realized people with their own flaws and emotions.Another fault for me was the ending. In a complete 180 from the story itself, the conclusion is rather rushed and unbelievable. The story moves from the school into the world, but what happens just didn’t resonate with me at all. And the ending itself was a rather non-ending. The resolution didn’t do anything for me. But given the dramatic, compelling nature of the rest of the book, and the characters that felt so real and alive, THIS IS NOT A TEST manages to remain a very good, very different YA book that deserves a look.VERDICT: Although weighted down with a heroine that is hard to like, THIS IS NOT A TEST is made by its lyrical writing and cast of well-fleshed characters. In a saturated market of zombie thrillers, this one stands out as fresh and different.