Tuesday, July 3, 2012
This is Not Just a Zombie Novel
They say "Don't judge a book by its cover," but they should also say, "Don't just a book by its blurb". With publishing houses trying so hard to sell their books, they jump to use anything from the book they think will catch people's attention, but sometimes in doing so, they alter the focus of book, maybe even mislead people. This can be very frustrating sometimes, but other times it can give you a chance to experience the book with a clean slate. Since your preconceived notions don't match up, you have to just let the book do work its magic. This is a pretty rare occurrence these days, but I treasure the experience. And experience I did with Courtney Summers' This is Not a Test.
Sloane's idea of hope disappeared when her sister left her to suffer their father's abuse alone. She has never felt so helpless... until the world turns upside down. When the dead begin to rise, no place is safe and hope is a luxury of the past. But somehow Sloane and 5 other kids make it to the only place they could think to close off and fortify, the one place no teenager would want to make their final home... the high school.
Now that they have gotten to the school and barricaded themselves inside, the illusion of safety begins to shatter. The zombies are outside the building eager to get in and the kids inside are all too painfully aware that nothing can keep them out forever. They also know their resources won't last forever, but for the time being, they are eager to accept the relative safety of the school and hope for someone to rescue them. Unfortunately, they can't know whether there are people alive out there or whether they are all alone. But things inside the school are not all peaches and cream, either. The kids' emotions are running high, but for Sloane, the apocalypse has provided the perfect opportunity she needs: the opportunity to end it all.
While this started out like your typical zombie novel, scared people running for shelter, escaping the dead, it quickly became something else entirely for me. While there were zombies outside and the kids were clearly afraid of the world crashing down around them, this was a story of past and present and all too painfully slim future. The kids each had their own baggage and sacrifices they carried into the school building that ate away at them after weeks of hiding from the walking dead. But Sloane's is the worst. While the other kids remember the monsters their friends, family, and even parents became after the apocalypse started, Sloane remembers the monster her father was before the dead started walking. She is a deeply troubled girl whose biggest betrayal was when her sister, the same sister who always swore they were together until the end, left and abandoned Sloane to her father. I loved this character because it really resonated that no matter what happens in your future, it is near impossible to lose the memories of what happened in the past. All too often we read (OK, I read!) apocalyptic books with strong leading characters who also, conveniently, have lovely survival skills. But what about the other people? The less McGuyver-esque people? Do they make it? Or are they the first to get eaten? This book really delved into the fact that survivors will most likely be a motley crew of people, some useful, some not, some cutthroat, some willing to accept the inevitable.
This was a real testament to the characters Summers' created. All too often in "action" type books, the characters become second string to the main character: the action. Summers remembered that the human aspect of any story is what really affects people, and so she created a story you will think about for a long time after finishing, not a book for cheap thrills. Even though this is a zombie story, the zombies are almost an afterthought or background noise, not the central conflict of the story. With so little zombie influence, this would be a book that could appeal to a variety of readers, even those not into the zombie stories. I might not give it to a really young or naive student because they would lose the subtle intricacies of the characters that make this book so interesting. So even if you aren't a zombie-phile, give this book a chance- there is more out there than just flesh eating and zombie hordes!