karen's Reviews > This is Not a Test

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
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Jan 31, 15

bookshelves: thank-you-bea-or-ala, why-yes-i-ya, upstairs-neighbors, zombies-r-bitey
Read on July 05, 2012


this isn't a zombie book so much as a zombie framing device to explore damage and the difficulties of making yourself vulnerable in front of someone - of communication's pitfalls and the numbing effects of trauma.

there are people who believe that trauma builds character. these people have probably never experienced trauma. trauma does not build character, but how someone responds to trauma is the true and most telling test of character.

more often than not, trauma leads to a retreat. nobody is a fan of emotional outpourings, are they? or am i projecting again? so let's just talk about this character. 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 formed this intensely close bond that never allowed anyone else in. after her sister ran away, leaving sloane alone in the path of her father's rage, she had no support system in place to fill the gap, and became suicidal.

and then, the zombies attacked.

so what happens when the wrong people survive?? the ones who didn't want to survive before the world went to hell?

this is a fascinating character study. six teenagers holed up in a school, barricading the doors against the zombie invasion outside. alliances will form, resentments will fester, desperate hookups and confessions and all-around brokenness will ensue.

and sloane, watching it all, unable to break through her own emotional reserves to make herself vulnerable in front of the others.

is this what it's like to get close to other people - you do something insane together and then you have to share everything even if you don't really want to?

she grows so much as a character, and it is painful and sad and you just want to be there with her, holding her throughout it all. not that she'd let you.

the other characters are great, too. this is not a one-person show. it manages to rejuvenate the YA-survival genre for me, like a cross between the breakfast club and a way more intense Trapped.

one character mourns his life, and how with nothing left in the world, his opportunities to become something have pretty much ended.

"...it's nothing. i thought it could be something, i mean, eventually." he finally looks at us. "my life. i thought - but i mean...it's nothing."

how absolutely shattering to realize, at fifteen, that your life has meant nothing and is essentially over. GAH!

and how clear-eyed sloane is through it all, as she thinks of a future she is still not sure she wants any part of.

when this is over, society will need entertainment to get past it. we'll make movies about it, hundreds of movies, and in every one of them, we'll be the heroes and the love interests and best friends and winners and we'll watch these movies until we are so far removed from our own history, we'll forget how it really felt to be here.

that insight is very rare in these typical survival novels. often, it is just all about the clinging to a member of the opposite sex for validation or comfort. and there is some of that, here, but it is way more charged than is typical. there is an immediacy and a desperation that is deeply written and felt by the reader.

and thank you for the realism:

the thing no one tells you about surviving, about the mere act of holding out, is how many hours are nothing because nothing happens.they also don't tell you about how you can share your deepest secrets with someone, kiss them, and the next hour it's like there's nothing between you because not everything can mean something all the time or you'd be crushed under the weight of it. they don't tell you how you will float through days. you autopilot, here but not really here, sleepwalking, and then every so often you are awake.

god, i am so tired of import. there is an awful lot of sleeping in this book. and silence. and yet it is not boring to read - this is such a fast-paced book. but the reality of how boring it would be to survive is much appreciated, and the true fact that not every kiss is the beginning and end of everything. a kiss can be, in fact, just a kiss...

and this. the ramifications of the last two sentences in this quote are quite easy to overlook if you haven't read the book, but:

i am caked in mud and my hair is straggly and knotted from the rain. my lips are bruised. there are cuts and scratches on me that i must have gotten since leaving the school but i don't remember how. she won't recognize me when she sees me. i look like someone who has survived.

you should read the book.

if nothing else, read the first chapter, which is a triumph of buildup and utter utter chaos. i cannot remember ever reading a better opening chapter in all my days.
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Comments (showing 1-39 of 39) (39 new)

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Blythe Ah, I hope you end up liking this, Karen! I plan on reading Summers' Some Girls Are soon.


karen oh, i loved it! great book!


message 3: by Mary Ann (new) - added it

Mary Ann Gacayan Some Girls Are is also a wonderful book Lady.You should definitely read it! :)


karen oh, i plan on reading all of her books! thank you! i am excited!


Kyle Great review, can't wait to read this! It's just been sitting on my shelf at this time, waiting for me.


message 6: by Richard (new)

Richard The best reviews are the ones that get the reader so interested in reading the book that they want to go and buy it. Well, this is one of the best...


karen oh, i'm glad! i hope you like it. it seems like most people do. it was not what i was expecting at all!


Catie Oh, yay! Great review karen - I agree with everything that you wrote here. I think that's something she does really well in all of her books: the characters are attracted to other teens and interact with them romantically, but it's never a huge, life-changing thing. It just is what it is.

I think (hope) you'll enjoy her other books. They're fast reads!


karen i put all of youse guys' recs on hold at the library. we didn't have the summers one in the store. i will read them all next week, i expect.


still so excited for this...


Catie That's my favorite one, tommie. :)


message 11: by Kristina (new)

Kristina Bell Looks really good!


Leanna I love your review. I just read this today- didn't know what I was getting into, and then was completely shattered. What a story!


message 13: by Travelling Sunny (new)

Travelling Sunny Zombies terrify me. But, I'll swing by B&N and read the first chapter. Only 'cause you said so. :)


karen ooooh, it is a good one...


Karen You are right on all points here- loved this one!


message 16: by Tonina (new) - added it

Tonina I'd decided to bypass this book after I heard it involved some sort of zombie apocalypse. I'm a bit worn out where survival/post-apocalyptic YA books are concerned and zombie books have never been the same for me since I read Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth and its sequels and was (apparently) the only person in the country who hated them.

However, your review was enough to pique my interest in This Is Not a Test. I love the idea of an author really exploring the realities of survival after an extreme event - not just the exciting bits, but the boring parts and the desperate urges that have no long-term meaning. So I'm off to my public library's site to see how many months I'll be waiting for this one! Thanks for the extremely helpful review.


karen oh, that's great! i completely understand the "over it" feeling w/r/t zombies. the zombies here are really incidental. it is definitely more of a character study and a book about loss and different ways of coping with loss.


Trudi So agree with that assessment. Great review karen!


karen thanks!


Thomas Karen, phenomenal review. As always. :)


karen aww thank you!


Anna  (Bananas!) Great review. Really, great review.


Anna  (Bananas!) Also, I wanna hug this review. Must read the book, it's decided.


karen ooh, i hope you love it and hug it, too!


Nicole Part of the reason I bought this book rather than getting it from the library was because I saw (without reading your review) that you had given it four stars. I read it in three hours. Such an amazing character study, indeed.


karen it's crazy good, right? eep!


message 27: by Mona (new) - added it

Mona Temchin Great review. This book is going on my to-read list now.


message 28: by Kristin (KC) (new) - added it

Kristin (KC) Such a fantastic review, Karen.

Love this-->there are people who believe that trauma builds character. these people have probably never experienced trauma. trauma does not build character, but how someone responds to trauma is the true and most telling test of character.

I'm a bit obsessed with Summers' storytelling. It's in a class of its own. I'm sure I'll be getting to this one soon, even though that means I'll officially be running out of Courtney Summers reads O_O


karen well. we're just gonna have to kidnap her misery-style and make her write faster!!!


message 30: by Kristin (KC) (new) - added it

Kristin (KC) karen wrote: "well. we're just gonna have to kidnap her misery-style and make her write faster!!!"

You clever devil ... I'm in!


karen we will be helpful with breakfast in bed!



and brrrrr we will protect her from getting too chilly!




message 32: by Kayla LaGuardia (new)

Kayla LaGuardia wow that would be so good,so,you don't have to get up to get breakfast


message 33: by Kristin (KC) (new) - added it

Kristin (KC) Ha--Of course we will! We're not animals!


karen and hey - look what i found!



thanks, internet!


message 35: by Kristin (KC) (last edited Apr 30, 2015 08:33AM) (new) - added it

Kristin (KC) Hey, hey, hey!
 photo image_zpsegqtefsq.jpg


message 36: by Monte (new)

Monte Varrick No one says trauma builds character. It's "Hard work builds character."


karen that's the adage, yes, but another adage is "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger," right?


message 38: by Broadwaybaby (new)

Broadwaybaby grrrrrrrrr you turd


message 39: by Kayla LaGuardia (new)

Kayla LaGuardia I'm going to be on American Ninga Warriors watch the next espiode of american nigna warrioes reply back


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