Updated: Oct 20, 2022
This book is not about a zombie apocalypse. While that is a central – and unavoidable theme in this novel – it certainly does not revolve around the situation. Grief, loss, perseverance and heartbreak fit the mould much better of ‘This is Not a Test,’ written by Canadian author Courtney Summers.
Summers, commonly known for her popular young-adult novel, ‘Sadie’ (an equally heartbreaking book), has a creative brain that never fails to write a genuinely unique literature piece. I found ‘This is Not a Test’ when scrolling through Indigo, for the hundredth time that week. I’m not much of a science-fiction buff, but when I read the synopsis of this story, it seemed much deeper than just a zombie apocalypse. I assumed correctly.
Sloan Price, a young, abandoned 17-year-old, must face her deepest demons and secrets for her survival. Suicidal and abused by her father, she has nothing to lose – death is something she craves and yearns for, but she needs to stay alive in the slight chance that her older sister Lily is alive. Even though it has been years since Lily left, Sloan still suffers, continuing to pick up the pieces of her broken heart. She has a feeling that Lily is still alive. Or at least, she hopes.
The day starts like any other; Sloan wakes up, dreading the day ahead of her. She has a piece of toast with a slab of butter for breakfast, which she couldn’t eat, but her dad angrily forced her to. Preparing her school bags and ready to leave to catch the bus, a commotion breaks out outside.
It seems like everyone is wild, running around, screaming. A trashcan was on fire; a car turned over. The front window of her house is shattered with a brick. It’s the end of the world.
Sloan finds herself days later, surrounded by five other students, hiding out in their high school. She can’t remember what happened after that bizarre day when the infected started taking over. It was all a blur; she saw blood – lots of blood. People were biting each other ferociously, feverishly. ‘A zombie apocalypse,’ is all she can muster to think, in disbelief. All it takes is one bite to kill a person, bringing them back to a monstrous version of themselves. Sloan’s dad was bitten; she can remember that.
The dead are pounding on the doors to the auditorium the six students have gathered in. They have been doing it for days. Their grunts are soft, their pounding endless. Stacked high against the doors are tables, chairs and couches.
Sloan hasn’t spoken a word since she got there. She’s in disbelief, drawn out from the rest of the group. She can recognize all of the people surrounding her but has nothing to say to them.
First, there is Rhys Moreno. A high school senior, who’s locker was diagonal to Sloans in high school. According to Sloane, he was frequently surrounded by girls and smoked cigarettes. He and Sloan bond at the beginning, their relationship acting as an outlet from the fear surrounding them.
The following student in the hideout is Trace Casper, the twin brother of Grace Casper. Distrustful of the rest of the group and full of angst, he is hopeful that his parents, who were bitten right in front of him, are still, somehow, alive.
Grace Casper, the twin sister of Trace Casper, is kind and compassionate. Popular at school, she was liked by everyone, but the strongest bond is with her brother. She is less hopeful than Trace regarding her parents but keeps a smile on her face reassuring him each day.
Cary Chen, the group leader, is highly responsible for gathering all the teenagers at the school. He is moody, often arguing with Trace throughout the novel. Trace claims Cary killed his parents, leading them right into the steps of the infected.
And last is Harrison, the youngest of the group. Scared, emotional and seen by the rest of the group as unhelpful and naive. You cannot help but feel for Harrison, as he is abandoned and disliked by the rest of the older teenagers.
Sloan can’t relate to any of her peers. They all want to live; they have families to get back to, aunts, grandparents. Sloan has nothing. She has thoughts of her sister still alive, but those dreams are getting slimmer and slimmer as the days go by.
As the book continues, drama breaks out. The infected are getting more hostile, and the group is starting to plan their escape. They are running out of food, the water tank is almost empty, and they are tired. The ending is sad; I have to admit. You grew to like each character in their unique way. There are deaths – lot’s of them, but what struck me the most about this novel was Sloan.
She hated her life before but still perseveres for her sister. It made me cry, and I admit, I had to sleep with the covers over my head for a few nights, but most importantly, it taught me the bond between family, as well as the bond you create with people you can least expect it.