Thursday, November 13, 2014

Review: This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Title: This is Not a Test (This is Not a Test #1)
Author: Courtney Summers
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication date: June 19, 2012
Rating: ★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

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?

Yes, yes, I am in the minority of those who did not like this book. I didn't just "not like" this book. I straight up COULD NOT STAND IT. Courtney Summers can write some mean prose, but I found the entire book to be well-worded fluff. For a zombie novel, nothing really happened. There was a significant amount of walking and showering and having the same conversations over and over. But what really irritated me about this book was how stale all the characters seemed.

Let's start with Sloane, the narrator of this story. I'm just going to put it out there: I found her to be painfully unbearable, such a stark contrast to people who actually wanted to survive but couldn't. I found myself not caring whether she lived or died. In retrospect, I don't know if there was nothing happening in the book so much as that Sloane was only telling us the things she cared to see. She doesn't seem like the most reliable narrator.

Next: Lilly, Sloane's missing sister. I still don't understand why she had such a significant place in the story. I mean, it's not hard to infer – older sibling who cares for and bonds with younger sibling over their abusive father – but quite frankly, based on what Sloane tells us of her, Lilly sounds like a hypocritical control freak who just decided to cut loose.

Then there's Grace and Trace, whom Sloane finds herself hiding out with. Both Trace and Grace are utterly ridiculous and a pain to read. They are privileged, self-righteous, and obnoxious, and they are somewhat disturbingly obsessed with each other. Also, they are twins. Named Trace and Grace. Enough said.

Little Harrison was useless from beginning to almost the end. Courtney Summers could have left him out of the book entirely, and I honestly doubt anyone would notice – which is unfortunate since he's ignored and pretty incompetent and slightly invisible in the book as well.

Rhys and Cary were the only redeemable characters, in my view. Aside from Sloane, they are the only ones who had to make hard decisions, who did the best they could given the circumstances. I found it so frustrating that both of them were constantly torn down (mostly by T(/G)race) for having to make those decisions. Maybe I'm naive but in times of utter chaos/panic/uncertainty, I assume that people will work together to survive, instead of criticizing each other to no end. Sure, in real life, there are always those who will take advantage of others, but when people are in suffering and suffering together, I've always noticed people letting down their walls a little bit and compromising and forming more of a community. I don't know. Maybe my experiences and the stories I've heard are an outlier.

And I just have to ask... what was the point of Mr. Baxter? He was entirely a means to an end – he came out of nowhere, literally. All we got were some random details about his life before the zombie uprising and some vague notions of what happened after, but that whole part of the plot felt completely slapdash.

Honestly, This is Not a Test was probably the one book I found most difficult to finish this year. It was so nihilistic and filled with senseless death. I think there's meant to be a flicker of hope at the end of this book, but quite frankly I was too caught up in trying to figure out what all just happened in the last 15 pages to really grasp it.

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