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?
Courtney Summers has hopped off the beaten trail with her fourth release, This Is Not A Test. Known for her quickly paced exploration of girl dynamics (and believe me that description underrates her), she has stepped into the world of the undead.
This Is Not A Test opens with Sloane wishing death upon herself. Deserted by her sister, plagued by her abusive father, she feels there is no other option. And then fate steps in (literally) through her window in the form of a fast moving, flesh seeking agent of death.
What results is a tense, taunt exploration of the human psyche as six teenagers find themselves the only living survivors of their town, trapped in a high school and surrounded by zombies (note: first mention of label on page 44). Unlike all of Summers previous works, there is a slow paced build that traces its way through suspicion, paranoia, risk and ultimately harm. With so much time trapped, personalities crystallised, motives shift and relationships form and un-form. The only thing that is certain: 1) no one is safe and 2) the zombies aren’t going away.
Unlike her fellow survivors Sloane resents the life she has managed to keep hold of. And yet, she keeps it a secret, locked away and buried not wanting to impact those around her. She is a character swamped in tragedy, hurt and depression, and yet there are glimmers of humour and light. Moments when the reader thinks that perhaps there is hope for her. We see the world as she sees it, through foggy spectacles of detachment – she wants nothing more than to be gone and yet those she is stuck with want to live, to escape, to be happy. It’s a complex conundrum that allows Summers to delve into each character, their relationships to one another and in turn how they affect Sloane. Summers is crafty that way – crafty, subtle and unpredictable.
The first chapter is so perfectly written that it sketches Sloane’s home life in a way that is much more terrifying than that of the zombie infestation soon upon her. This knowledge sits so close that it ingrains the audience pushing them through Sloane’s moments of ambivalence, silence and inactivity until action cannot be avoided.
The tension and fear build but are never portrayed from Sloane’s perspective, it is all second-hand as those around her spin off kilter, bouncing off one another or being caught in the recoil. Nevertheless, you feel real concern for each of the characters as they are faced with the real possibility that their lives are to be extinguished before they leave their school yard.