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Until this book, I had never read anything by Courtney Summers, despite hearing great things. Yet for some inexplicable reason, the synopsis and cover for This Is Not A Test called to me, and when I received the opportunity to read an ARC, I jumped at the chance. I went into the book really excited and emerged completely overwhelmed - in the best possible way. Even though the Goodreads description puts the page count at 320, the E-ARC I read was only around 200 pages...and yet Summers managed to expertly craft so much emotion, heart, and soul into those pages.
This Is Not A Test is one of those books that you just can't help but wish you weren't done with, can't help but wish lasted a few more pages, a few more moments with characters I came to love. We see a post-apocalyptic world through troubled, broken Sloane Price's point of view, and I fell instantly for Sloane. She's almost ruined, but there's still a spark of life left in her and it's enough to reach out and take hold of you, as the reader, and refuse to let go. Sloane made me want to weep, and made me want to put my arms around her for a long time. Sloane is a fierce, devastated girl, and at times, an unreliable narrator, but she's so vivid all the same. Courtney Summers wrote an amazing character in Sloane, and I really loved her writing style, too. It was just right for this book - haunting without being ethereal, direct at times without being bland, and just descriptive enough without going too far.
Nothing about This Is Not A Test was what I expected. I haven't read many zombie novels, so I didn't anticipate the depth to not just Sloane, but all the secondary characters. Too many authors ignore their minor characters, and shove too much character development on their main character - but not Summers. Instead of one character to feel for and sympathize with, she gives you six. Six unique, individually scarred teens, who each earned a place in my heart over the course of this novel. Twins Grace and Trace (you get past the names, believe me) made me feel SO much. Rhys made me swoon a few times, and I loved that there was more under his surface. I wanted to shake and then alternately hug Cary, and I pretty much wanted to hug Harrison forever. The characters all played wonderful - and at times, dramatically - off of one another, adding many more layers to this novel.
There's a gripping, harsh sense of urgency throughout This Is Not A Test that you simply cannot ignore. Amidst that, is all the emotion from the characters dealing with people they've lost in the zombie plague, and Sloane's own struggle. Six months before the start of This Is Not A Test, Sloane's sister Lily - her confidante, her lifeline - left. Sloane and Lily's home life is a nightmarish reality that no one should ever be subjected to, and without Lily, Sloane understandably cannot deal. Throughout the novel, Summers explores Sloane's suicidal tendencies, at once breaking my heart, and inspiring me to cheer for Sloane to want to live. It's impossible to imagine there being any hope in this kind of a dark novel, yet I think I saw just a bit, shining in around the edges, especially near the end.
This Is Not A Test was a difficult novel to read, and also immensely haunting. The story and the characters lingered like ghosts for days after I finished the novel. I wondered about them - how they were, if they were okay, if they found happiness. They certainly deserved it, especially Sloane and Rhys. Their interactions and blossoming romance was another unexpected facet of this novel, but one I definitely enjoyed. They weren't easy, and they weren't insta-love, either. They were a beginning, though, something beautiful in the midst of everything horrible.
If you're wondering if you should read This Is Not A Test, the answer is yes. It's heart-breaking and thrilling and dangerous. It's emotional and relevant. It's possible and it will stay with you after you finish. Courtney Summers has created a brilliant novel with This Is Not A Test.