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This is Not a Test    by Courtney Summers order for
This is Not a Test
by Courtney Summers
Order:  USA  Can
Griffin, 2012 (2012)
Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I will read anything by Courtney Summers, who writes extraordinary (empathetic, insightful, and credible) YA novels about young women in extremis - Cracked Up To Be, Some Girls Are and Fall for Anything. So, though I tend to avoid zombie lit, I dived right in to This is Not a Test and did not regret it.

Sloane Price is in extremis even before the world as she knew it ends. She only survived her controlling father's constant physical and verbal abuse because her elder sister Lily shared it with her. They had a plan and saved every penny to escape together. But then Lily left on her own, abandoning Sloane with a note, 'I can't do this any more.' After weeks off sick from school (until the bruises no longer show), Sloane is finally free to leave her home today - and has every intention of killing herself at the first opportunity.

She opens the door to a world gone mad, people running and screaming, and blood everywhere. She runs, hoping only for oblivion, but somehow, having lost her father along the way, Sloane ends up with a small group of survivors (six scared teenagers) who take refuge in Cortege High, boarding up the windows and barricading the entrances. Ironically, the group includes Grace and Trace Casper - Sloane's one and only sleepover had been at the Casper home years before and it's a happy memory that she's cherished ever since.

But this group of survivors is not a harmonious one - Grace and Trace started off with their parents, who were engulfed by zombies after entering an alley the group leader, Cary, told them was clear - their children are furious with Cary, and Trace in particular resents his assumption of authority over them. What follows reminded me of William Golding's The Lord of the Flies, as fear and tension incite bizarre behavior, and essentially good people start to do things they would never have contemplated before.

Throughout, the teens listen to a radio broadcast, that repeats This is Not a Test, before advising them to find a secure location and wait for help. Sloane tells us, 'This must be what Dorothy felt like ... If Dorothy was six scared teenagers and Oz was Hell.' Gradually, as they devolve, we learn each one's vulnerability and secrets - and, despite her background and intention to kill herself, Sloane is by no means the weak one in the group.

Though she greatly admires Grace, Sloane eventually becomes closest to Rhys. When the radio message changes, telling survivors to make their way to a safe haven in Rayford, they stick together. And Sloane is reunited with her father and with Lily, but not as she had hoped. If you're a fan of zombie tales, this one is a must read. But even if, like me, you generally avoid them, This is Not a Test is still well worth reading. Highly recommended!

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