Writer's View: This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

From Goodreads: It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self.

To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live.

But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside.

When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

The Writer's View


Thanks to Giselle at Xpresso Reads for recommending! (And for getting me hooked on zombies!)

In a nutshell, this book is The Breakfast Club meets Zombie Apocalypse. Six teenagers, the end of the world, and one high school. What's so fascinating about this book is that even though it's technically a zombie book, zombies are only present for about 15% of the novel.

Using the speculative landscape to explore teenage depression

The book is actaully a metaphor for depression. The main character, Sloane Price, is a suicidal teenager. Her father beats her. Her sister recently ran away, leaving Sloane alone with her raging father. I experienced her saddness and despair as a physical weight as I read the book. The landscape of the zombie apocalypse is a metaphor for her internal suffering. The zombies are an external expression of how Sloane feels on the inside: dead. And being surrounded by death and decay on the outside helps Sloane to overcome her mental monsters and find the will to live. In the end, this ends up being a novel about hope and healing.

I'd love to go on and on about metaphors and how they worked so well in various scenes of this book, but I'd be giving too much away. In my opinion, this book is the pinnacle of what speculative fiction can be. Excellent story telling with a poignant message, all expressed with a speculative element. I just eat this stuff up. I was completely blown away by this novel and I hope it wins some awards.
And if you like charcters, this book has them. The six teenagers trapped in the high school together are all unique, loveable, and flawed.

Skipping the conventional in trope fiction

What I found so fascinating was the lack of zombies in this zombie novel. There's a gap of seven days between the prologue and Part 1. (There are no chapters in this book, just a prologue and four parts.) And during those seven days, the six teens band together and make their way across their hometown, eluding zombies and eventually taking refuge in the high school.
At first, I was like HUH? Why did Summers skip those seven days of action and adventure? Then I realized, as a reader, I didn't need to see those seven days. I've seen enough zombies in the movies and read enough zombie books to get the gist of their adventure. I am all too familiar with the trope stereotypes. The real adventure begins when the kids get to the high school and they struggle to mentally survive the end of the world. Once I realized this, I realized how brilliant Summers' decision was. Though she used a conventional trope, she skipped a conventional aspect found in ths type of ficiton. This decision brought Sloane and her turmoil to the forefront, and really allowed this evolution of her character to florish.

I hope I've convinced some of you to check out this book! It's amazing!