Monday, June 18, 2012

YA book review: This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers + ARC giveaway

Reading level: Ages 13 and up
Paperback: 336 pages
Format: paperback (320 pages) and ebook
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (June 19, 2012)

Blurb: 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?

Our review: Get ready for the a zombie story, Courtney Summers style.

I'm a Courtney Summers fan. I have loved her three contemporaries (Cracked Up To Be, Some Girls Are and Fall For Anything). This author creates characters with uniquely powerful voices and situations. These teens may be unconventional and not fit a mold and that's okay because they're individuals.

When I received this book from the publisher, I thought "Cool, a contemporary with zombies." Since I already trusted this author, I dived into the book. Unlike her other novels, getting into This Is Not A Test was not easy but there was something about Sloane's voice (thank you Ms. Summers for the different names you choose) that kept me reading. Her voice and the apocalyptic setting she now found herself living in intrigued me.

At first, I wondered about Sloane's frame of mind. With her past and the abuse from her father, it was no wonder she was so attached to her older sister, Lily, and placed her faith in her sibling to get her out of a worsening situation. When Lily takes off, leaving her alone with her batterer father, Sloane shuts down, much like a zombie. As I continued to read I got it. I got it all. There may not be a lot of action and zombies breaking down barriers but I didn't need that to make me keep turning the pages. Not even halfway through, I realized I was hooked into this engrossing tale of survival and preservation. By the time Sloane attempts to leave the security of the school building to check the identity of somebody outside, I didn't want to close the book.

The secondary cast of teen survivors were a motley crew of personalities from the leader/thinker (Chan), the follower (Harrison), the cool one (Rhys) and the popular (twins Grace and Trace). This Is Not A Test is a cerebral trip and not meant to be read quickly. I loved the symbolism and hearing Sloane's thoughts and interactions with the other students. Walking around with the ghost of her sister's betrayal as her constant companion, I cheered when Sloane decided to finally let go and live. When we're not in charge of the things which affect us, we can nurture the flame of hope to someday find something better.

Emotional, melancholy, gripping and uniquely compelling (Courtney Summers trademarks, aren't they?), I LOVED This Is A Test making her books four-for-four. Sometimes the horrors in our lives are not the undead trying to tear down our doors but the ones we live with or the one staring back at one's reflection. We only need to understand that life--while it may not be picture perfect--is worth living despite. . .anything, including a zombie invasion. I cannot wait to see what Summers writes next.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Favorite excerpt: "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.

The next moment that matters turns out to be this one:

"Do you need anything?"

I'm sitting on the cot in the nurse's room. Rhys stands in the doorway. I don't understand what he's asking until I realize I'm surrounded by first aid. Peroxide, salve, and fresh bandages to tend to my forehead with. I bring my hand to it. It's crusting over.

"I want to leave it like this," I say.

"That's not going to help it heal."

I gather the supplies and go into the bathroom. I take care of the wound. When I come out, Rhys is still there. He's stepped into the room and his hand is on the back of the chair he sat in that night, waiting for me to wake up just so he could demand answers from me. He looks me up and down and I flush, remembering what I'm wearing today. A drama department dress. It's blue, straddling that strange line between casual and formal and I felt weird putting it on but earlier, I decided to give my other clothes a quick wash in the showers and now they're drying out in the locker room.

"I keep thinking about what you told me," Rhys says. "About your father. I thought . . . you got away from him. You should look at it like that. Now you're free."

"It's not about him," I say."

Cover comment: I'm glad she's not wearing a prom dress (even though she's wearing a blue dress in the above excerpt). I like the angle of the model's head and how her hair is covering her face making her any girl and the blood splatter is a cool touch. This cover sums up Sloane's story to me and I wouldn't change a thing.

Book source: I received an ARC of this book for my totally honest opinion in this review. I thank Griffin Teen and St. Martin's Press.

Since we loved this book so much, we thought we'd share the love and give it to another reader. Enter below. This contest is open internationally and ends at midnight on June 30.
a Rafflecopter giveaway