Friday, November 16, 2012

Young Adult Fiction: This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers

Yep, I did it again. I went for the apocalyptic novel yet again, despite my disappointment with this type of novel in my earlier attempts to branch out. I just couldn't resist a novel that took on the zombie apocalypse, but from the perspective of a teenager instead of an adult. This Is Not A Test follows a group of teenagers as they try to survive the early days of the world's end. It is another take on a popular idea, and I just crossed my fingers and dove right in.

The Situation: The end of the world would actually not be that big a deal to 16 year-old Sloane Price. Six months ago, when her sister and best friend, Lily, ran away from home, that was the end of Sloane's world. Since then, she's just been thinking of ways to make it official. Before Lily left, they dealt with their abusive father together and were able to take care of each other and watch out for each other. Now, Sloane is by herself with the awful man, and sees no reason to keep trying to survive. I know what you're is this not the problem?

The Problem: The end of the world, the real one, is actually here. As awful as Sloane's abusive father is, what is happening on the outside is actually much worse. Before Sloane is able to end it for herself, the world has started to crash down around everyone else. The infected flood the streets, attacking anyone with a pulse. Barricading doors and windows only works for so long before those barriers give way and the infected come in, hungry for the living hiding out inside. And these aren't the slow living dead of old. These zombies are fast and incredibly hungry. Sloane finds herself barricaded inside the local high school with five other teenagers. It is by far the safest place in the city, but even it isn't invincible. And with six scared teenagers as its inhabitants, the situation quickly becomes tense. Think William Golding's Lord of the Flies gone horribly wrong. Yeah, I know...the whole point of Lord of the Flies was that it did go wrong...that is just how much worse this situation becomes. It all causes Sloane to wonder what if suicide is still the best way out. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult incredibly horrifying and terrifying young adult novel. Here's the thing though: the zombies aren't the only threat. The main threat throughout the majority of the novel are the six teenagers inside the school. Blame for prior events is thrown around menacingly, some are used as bait, others are threatened, no one is trusted, and yet they have no choice but to trust each other on some level because they are all trying to survive, together. But if it is impossible for the group to survive, how far will the individuals go to ensure their own safety? Oh yeah, and then there is still the issue of the zombies. It seems that every zombie book or movie or television show treats zombies a little bit differently. They are all basically infected human beings who have been bitten by another infected and either turn while they are alive, or they die and then turn, and then proceed to hunt down other living humans. Like I mentioned before, Summer's zombies are fast, but they are also clumsy. They aren't smart, but they are strong, and they don't work together. They have one goal, and that is to feed. 

My Verdict: I really like this book. I know, I was surprised too. I don't know if it is the fact that it is written from the perspective of a teenager, or that it is a young adult novel, or that the zombies really aren't the main factor, or that there aren't many adults present. Maybe Summers is just that good a writer. Whatever it is, I actually enjoyed this book. Young adults and adults alike would enjoy this novel and could probably relate to the struggle to survive against pretty impossible odds. Will I continue to read other novels about the apocalypse? Probably not. But that is through no fault of this book.

Favorite Moment: This book has one of those moments that I love when a character says something that profoundly foreshadows something that is to come. And even though the reader doesn't quite know it for sure, something about the way it is written or the way the character says it let's us know that something important has been spoken into the future. If done well, you know it when it happens, even if the character saying it is just a kid. And when the foreshadowed moment finally comes, it is almost as if the reader and author have shared some inside joke. It's incredibly satisfying.

Also, over and over, Sloane makes a point to say she wasn't raised to believe in God, but she prays anyway. Many books today like to have at least one character make the case that there either is no God or that they don't care if there is. Situations don't get much more hopeless than Sloane's, but she still prays. And the point may be that when close to the end, a lot of people do.

Favorite Character: Rhys Moreno may not be the leader of the group of six, but he probably should have been. He's smart, he's tough, and he isn't totally out for himself. He's not perfect, but he knows that, and he knows he doesn't need to be. He just needs to keep going. 

Recommended Reading: I am tempted to recommend either Golding's Lord of the Flies, or Colson Whitehead's Zone One. The problem is, I don't actually like either one of those books that much. However, for those readers out there who typically do enjoy novels about the zombie apocalypse, Zone One is probably a good choice. Be warned though, it doesn't have half as much action, and the writing is a little too clean. 

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