Courtney Summers is honest and up-front about her shizz. Her writing is brutal and poetic and cutting, but never once do you feel as if she’s beating around the bush. She writes ON THE REAL. This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers is all about REAL characterizations, actions, feelings, and issues. Every word is like a brass-knuckled punch to the heart. It exposes you, it wounds you. Each word knocks those pretty rose-colored glasses right off your face and now you’re seeing the world for what it really is—a place gone cold, hellish where only the tiniest glimmers of hope survive to tantalize those struggling to reach for it. I’ve never encountered a writer quite like Summers, a shaper of words so beautiful and impactful that tell the story of a disturbing girl ready to let the world go at the same time it falls apart, crumbles beneath the feet of five other teenagers oblivious to the true meaning of pain, of inescapable imprisonment.
Summers’s prose is telling, insightful, and gorgeously dark, uncovering a world in which fate has dealt some a cruel hand. The zombieness? That’s only the HALF of it. They’re thudding and moaning outside the school, sending chills and things down all of our spines, but there aren’t as many close-ups as you might think. AND THAT’S OKAY. If The Breakfast Club had been about kids stuck at school because of ZOMBIES as opposed to detention, it would’ve escalated so fraking much on the coolness scale. Which I had, before This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers, thought utterly impossible. These characters Summers shoves us into meeting come face-to-face with dizzying suffering and critical, harsh loss in a way no one should. They’re without parents, without hope, without freedom. They are entombed in the school, in their rage, in their agony, in their fear, and are forced to endure the suffocating, maddening reality of it.
At the end of the day, each of them want to survive what seems to be the end of all days.
~May I remind you~
Grace, Trace, Harrison, Cary, Sloane, and Rhys? They’re just KIDS, for crying out loud. One character later says something about teenage ingenuity, and that’s EXACTLY it. These six kids manage to escape the zombie population devastating their small town and fortify their hiding place all on their own. The fact that they even came up with the high school on their own? Serious braniac points. God knows I would’ve been slaughtered sometime around page zero on account of my lack of BRAINS, or rather my ability to use them, because the fact that I HAVE THEM and THEY WORK RIGHT is what would drive the zombies bananas for my body.
If it wasn’t bad enough that we’re talking about six teenagers stranded at their local high school as they await rescue, there’s all this crazy interpersonal stuff between them. Starting with the fact that the group started as eight. And in between that and the tail end of it is drowning guilt, mourning, suicidal tendencies, and unbelievable loss. Each of these six people have so many emotions locked up inside of them, all these secrets and horrific thoughts, that it’s no wonder there’s so much DRAMA. Although I’m not talking about angsty teen television show drama but HOLY FRAK THERE ARE ZOMBIES OUTSIDE AND PEEPS ARE DEAD, DYING, OR UNDYING EVERYWHERE drama. The sort of bulletin you pay attention to, the sort that keeps you engrossed and appalled and tense all the way through.
~Death, and how the HELL romance?~
Ya’ll, some goose-bumpy TERRIFYING things go down in This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers. And not all of those things are about the zombies gnawing at metal and throwing themselves bodily at all the exits to get inside the building. There’s a lot of bad blood mingling into the group, carrying over more toward the testosterone end of said group. Poor Sloane, who has suffered immense and unimaginable physical and verbal abuse all of her life, is stuck amongst a bunch of loud criers and even louder yellers. The arguments, the punching, the GUN WAVING, all of it, makes for a very tense, be-on-your-guard sort of atmosphere, because every shaky second you have to wonder who’s willing to pull the metaphorical and literal trigger. Who’s crazy and is slowly going crazy, who’s being eaten alive by guilt and by sheer terror. Which is what makes This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers so thrilling and eerie. Because on the human scope, some of these characters are more vicious than the zombies than they let on.
BUT LET’S NOT FORGET ABOUT THE ZOMBIES. Because you will get eaten and ripped apart. And DIE. There are SO many close calls that the shakes take over, the shock, and the panic. It’s not that you’re so close to the characters you feel all this, but Courtney Summers manages to bring you astonishingly strong, perfect images of everything that happens. Then, you’re there, you’re witnessing AND experiencing, which lends the book that much more POWER and DEPTH. I felt closer to the situation than the actual characters some of the time because the imagery was so overpowering.
With all this death and decay permeating the plot, you might be wondering, however, how the hell a romance can spark at all? Half of the time, this group seems more insane and twitchy than anything else. The truth is, though, that there’s a lot of emotional depth as well. Sloane and crew have seen and done unspeakably horrible things, which is the reason for all those shadows on the mind and unsaid secrets in the air. Everyone’s once lily-white hands are stained with deep crimson in some haunting way. There’s no going back for the awful things they had, or felt they had, to do. And this is what ties some of the characters closer, knitting them together with blood and devastation and endless remorse. Rhys sure the heck KNOWS something is very wrong with Sloane, whom they stumbled across and enfolded in thinking she was trying to get up as opposed to trying to let go. With a couple suicide attempts under her belt, Rhys is wary and suspicious and angry with this girl he’s always been aware of. What he doesn’t know is that her sister’s escape plan had actually consisted of perfection for ONE and not two, that her father from the time she can remember has beat every ounce of hope and security right out of her.
And when he does know these things? There’s softness, gentleness, tenderness, and all those lovely feelings that couple with his protection of her and loyalty to her that make him so subtly swoonworthy. He's hard and serious and guilty of so much, but he’s compassionate and thoughtful too. Sloane may have to wake up on her own, but Rhys is certainly tempting her out of her unnervingly cold and lonely sleep.
~Why you no special shelf?~
This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers is damn near complete and stunning perfection. It’s emotional, tangible, genuine, and beautiful. Each chapter was a shock to the system, constantly keeping me on my toes and taking me by surprise. The story BORDERS on special shelf. But, if there’s one thing I irrevocably dislike, it’s VAGUE ENDINGS.
When a book like This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers is so tormenting and stunning and intense, I feel slightly cheated when I’m not given anything conclusive to hold onto. There’s no clearly defined path, no concrete answer to the big WILL THEY MAKE IT? Will they want to? What now? Granted, this ending is by far one of the better ones in the vague setting, and there IS a hint of closure in what’s written by Sloane on a very important piece of paper she’s carried with her throughout the story that stretches after the last word. I wanted a bit more.
Originally posted at Paranormal Indulgence, 6/26/12