Saturday, June 23, 2012

This Is Not A Test – Courtney Summers
“This is not a test. Listen closely. This is not a test. Do not draw attention to yourself. Once you have found a secure location, stay where you are and help will come soon.”

Sloane Price’s mother is dead, her dad regularly beats her, and her older sister/best friend Lily has just run away without so much as a note or word of ‘goodbye.’ The only possible black icing that could top that Cake of Sad would be a zombie apocalypse, right? Welcome to the world of author Courtney Summers, reader!  Not one to shy away from tough subjects, Summers earlier books Cracked Up to Be, Some Girls Are, and Fall for Anything tackled such issues as bullying, alcoholism, suicide and date rape. Here, she takes on child abuse and abandonment, throws in some zombies, and asks, “Would you fight to survive in a world you’ve given up on?”

We barely meet poor Sloane and get her family history and current mental state before fast-forwarding seven days later to Sloane boarded up in her high school with five of her not-so-closest high school friends. No mention is made of exactly how the town of Cortege got overrun with zombies. We just know that once the outbreak of 'infecteds' occurred, family and friends fell victim quickly and within a few days, this rag-tag group randomly met up during flight from their various homes. With a nod to John Hughes’ “The Breakfast Club,” each character represents a stereotypical high school student type: there are twins Trace (the tough athlete) and Grace (the pretty popular girl); Harrison (the wimpy freshman geek); Cary (the outspoken leader); Rhys (the bad boy); and of course Sloane (the quiet realist).

Turns out if you’ve got to be trapped somewhere during a zombie outbreak, a school is a good place to take refuge. It’s got access to water and showers (the bathrooms and gym), food (cafeteria), clothes (lockers and the drama costume department), comfy furniture (teacher’s lounge), and outside communication (radios and computers). As the message, ‘This is not a test…’ plays endlessly on loop over the radio, the group work to barricade every door, window and access point into the school until they are left to deal with perhaps the scariest creatures of all – themselves.

Trace and Grace already hate Cary, since they blame him for the death of their parents. Seems during their initial escape to a safe haven, Cary sent Ma and Pa Casper down an alleyway first, claiming it was all clear, only to have the couple swarmed and eaten by infecteds as their children and the others watch on in horror before running. Harrison can’t stop crying and wringing his hands wondering how long until they’re miraculously rescued, while Rhys can tell Sloane is battling demons of her own and works to break down the barricade she’s put up to protect her personal pain. Throw in a zombie teacher break-in, an explosion, too many alpha males in close quarters, some hormonal hook-ups, and a shooting, and you’ve got a story you won’t be able to put down.

Summers is a master at building slow dread and doesn’t hesitate to hit you with a punch to the gut when you least expect it. During a few confrontations, I had to remind myself to breathe, and towards the very end, my husband had to leave and watch “Storage Wars” in another room because he said I was gasping and saying, ‘Oh no,’ too much – pfft, like he doesn’t gasp and say ‘Oh no’ at some of the bum deals those peeps end up with on “Storage Wars.”

While I liked Summers’ other books well enough, This Is Not A Test cements my fangirldom. Her next book, All the Rage, is set for a 2013 release and is a mystery involving something sinister that happens to a girl who tries to blackmail her rich classmates. To learn more about Courtney Summers, her novels and follow her on her blog, go to http://www.courtneysummers.ca/ .

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