Honest and lively YA book reviews
This is touted as a zombie book. But it ain't about zombies. It's about reasons for living, survival instinct and finding meaning in a world that has seemingly lost everything.
Sloane is trapped living with her abusive father with no escape from his beatings following the death of her mother and the escape of her sister. Sloane makes the enormous decision that she cannot bear to continue living and that she will end it all with an overdose. However, she wasn't banking on a zombie apocalypse occurring right outside her front door. She finds refuge in her high school along with five other teens and hunkers down to wait out the horrors beyond the barricaded front doors. While the others are hellbent on survival though Sloane has different ideas .....
Now, let's get this straight from the beginning. This is not an exciting read, filled with rip-roaring adventure, gory face-eating zombie escape plans or hacking through bodies, arms flying every which way to reach salvation. No. There's a helluva lot of sitting around, contemplation and teenage angsting. So in short, it's rather boring. In fact, I'm glad the book is so short or I would have macheted it myself out of sheer frustration.
I get that the book was aimed towards exploring Sloane's inner struggle, not a survival of the fittest, chase to the death with zombies hot on our heels, breathing undead vapours down our necks, all the while our hearts beat in our mouths kinda ride. I understand that. What I don't understand is why the author felt that following these teens around an empty high school while they cry and bicker was going to make for an entertaining story.
This Is Not A Test is almost entirely character driven, with very little actual plot to speak of. So with this in mind, would it not have made more sense to create rich, engaging, well rounded and likeable characters rather than lumping us with the band of irritating loons that Courtney Summers chose to imagine. There is not one single character who is memorable or who I could connect with. Even their names are completely lame - why would you call the twins Grace and Trace?!! Why would you do that to us Ms Summers?!! Why?!! So. Fucking. Irritating.
The characterisation is so poor that none of the characters are satisfyingly developed. We never manage to get inside their heads and know any of them. Sloane is the worst example of this. And this is pretty bad considering she's the main character and narrator. Her relationship with her sister, Lily is never explored fully so when it comes to the supposed-to-be-shock ending, I actually simply didn't give a crap. It's described to us that Sloane felt safer when Lily was there. That she felt betrayed and let down when Lily jumped ship as she had promised her a way out, an escape from their brutal father. But this was never properly expanded on. There were no anecdotes told, no memories shared. To be honest, it sounded at times that the only reason Sloane was so pissed at Lily was because she had been her ride. And Sloane had no plan B. That's how superficial their relationship appeared. There was no mention of all the things she longed for her and Lily to experience and achieve once they had left town. There was no talk of everything this had meant to Sloane and all the hopes and dreams that were now dashed because her sister had legged it. And this is why I wasn't buying all the talk of suicide and Sloane's inability to carry on living. The tipping point that made up Sloane's mind was her sister fleeing, but her sister appeared to mean jack-shit to the girl so why's she suddenly so hung up on ending her life?!! It just didn't feel genuine to me.
I understand that she lived in hell. She was constantly terrified of her own father and it appears had been beaten daily for most of her life. This is a heartbreaking and horrific situation for Sloane to be in. She has nobody to trust, nobody to turn to, no security and love in her life. I get it. But I don't get Lily acting as any kind of catalyst for Sloane's choice to die. There was no strength in their relationship that the reader was let in on. I could understand if Sloane simply could take no more of her father's abuse. But that's not the picture that's painted. I also don't understand how Lily could run and leave her younger sister to rot in that appalling situation. I couldn't wrap my head around this. Lily was the eldest. She was old enough to know right from wrong, and she was old enough to report her father for the abuse he had dealt out and find Sloane somewhere safe to live before heading for the hills.
All this spoiled the whole book for me. It removed any emotion I might have felt for Sloane and her predicament at the end of the world as she didn't feel genuine. I couldn't relate to her and Lily as they were wooden, unlikeable and inconsistent. This is a big shame as otherwise I might have enjoyed This Is Not A Test. It sounded so interesting and received rave reviews, but if your story is character driven, the characters have to be tight and incredibly relatable, enough to incite some kind of feeling in me other than "meh".
The other characters fade to a blur. They're nothing special. There's nothing really stand out about them.
Grace and Trace are just female and male versions of the same person, paper thin in their development with only one cause - to angst over their parent's death. I mean, sure it's a shame their parents died and all, but with zero personality, zero history and zero likeable traits it's really difficult for me to muster enough emotion to give a crap about GraceTrace's fate. They're there to cause tension and confrontation. That's it. They are a reflection of Sloane's desire for a family who loves her, there only to highlight the despair and fear she feels over her own situation.
Rhys ..... I'm not sure why he's there other than to offer Grace a ride at the very end. And they make out. Natch. I mean, c'mon guys! This is YA! Of course there's some romantic subplot! Jeez .....
Cary is there to act as a leader and to move the plot forward as he's the only one who actively shifts himself in to some kind of action. He's got no story though. He's just a catalyst. Oh wait a minute ..... He was in love with Lily once upon a time. So he's also there to whip up a bit of an internal conflict inside Sloane. Although the point of all that I'm uncertain about.
Uhm ..... Who's next? Oh yeah, Harrison. Well, Harrison's only there for Cary to use as a scapegoat to get out of one single incident of misjudgement. I swear, Harrison serves no other purpose. I won't spoil the story by revealing what that one incident is but believe me, he's in the book for 302 pages for this single use. I just found this mind boggling. I guess he's not really a character at all but in fact a plot device.
Mr Baxter was only there to add uncertainty to the situation, and take away the teen's feeling of safety within the school by posing the question "How did I get in when all the entrances are barricaded?" so he was a big fat yawn too. Nothing was truly resolved surrounding him. He is an enigma.
Yeah, okay. There were some moments along the way where I was mildly entertained. But I was never drawn, headlong into the lives of these characters. I was never absorbed and engaged. I will hesitate to say I was even truly interested in their fate. The entire story was altogether two dimensional. Thin, weak. I just couldn't trick myself into believing, or being captivated by anything that happened. I just didn't give a shit. And that's vital in a character driven novel, that the readers care.
I can appreciate why this book is popular. It's an original idea and a different spin on the usual zombie saga. But personally? No. It didn't work for me. And the cover is ugly .....
Onwards and upwards my friends!