A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Discusses survival strategies during an apocalyptic event. Although some of the lessons are specific to a fictional zombie invasion, the survival skills apply to all sorts of catastrophes.
As This Is Not a Test explores, no one knows how they'll respond in a state of emergency until they're experiencing one. Sloane and her schoolmates prove that people can be simultaneously brave and afraid, selfish and helpful. Not everyone has the safety net of a close family to protect them. Sloane and Grace's strained relationship demonstrates that without communication, people might assume they're no longer friends, even if that's not the case. Although it's realistic, the teens engage in some risky, amped-up behavior considering that the world seems to be coming to an end around them.
Positive Role Models
All of the main characters are adolescents dealing with unfathomable circumstances, but most of them rise to the occasion when necessary. Rhys saves Sloane's life, even though it's obvious she has a death wish. Sloane returns the favor by helping him even though she'd rather die. Cary has great leadership qualities despite being known as a laid-back pot dealer. Grace and Trace act tough and unbreakable but are quite tender and protective of each other. Even weak, young Harrison has his moment to do something big.
Violence & Scariness
Despite being a book about the zombie apocalypse, most of This Is Not a Test's action takes place within the relative safety of a barricaded high school, so there's not as much violence or action as you'd expect. Still, people die (or are obviously headed to their doom). The twins hate Cary for leading their parents to their demise. Characters are killed (eaten) by vampires; one commits suicide; another wants to commit suicide but is saved from her own plan; someone is accidentally fatally shot. A character's father repeatedly physically abused her and her sister. There's blood and dismembered body parts, gun use, and quarantining those who pose a threat. There's also the constant fear that pervades sitting ducks during a catastrophe no one may survive.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Sloane, who's completely inexperienced when the zombie invasion begins, has her first kiss and her first make-out sessions (stopping short of intercourse) with Rhys. Sloane catches Grace and Cary "going at it"; Grace gives Harrison his first real kiss; during the drinking game of "I Never," four of the teens share that they're not virgins. Cary confesses that he was having sex with Sloane's sister before she ran away. Sloane remembers her sister's casual attitude toward sex.
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Like most people during a violent, apocalyptic event, the kids around Sloane curse a lot. "F--k" is used a lot during fraught situations. The teens also say "s--t," "a--hole," "bitch," etc. on a regular basis. Also salty but milder language such as "blow me," "hell," "damn," etc.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
The kids drink, some heavily, while captive at the high school. The youngest in the group gets drunk and throws up.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that This Is Not a Test is an unconventional zombie book because for the majority of the story, the main character and five classmates are relatively safe within the confines of their high school. More a psychological thriller than a zombie action story, the book deals with some heavy issues (physical abuse, abandonment, suicidal tendencies, violence, vigilantism, depression). Several characters die either in flashbacks or in the present, some by the teeth of ravenous zombies, another by gunshot, one by his own hand. The romance is fraught and intense, with a couple of characters who barely know each other nearly going all the way. The language is as strong as the violence -- lots of "f--k" and "s--t" and "a--hole." Although the zombie invasion is the framing story, this is ultimately a story of surviving against all odds.
Is It Any Good?
Canadian author Courtney Summers has created a page-turning tale that's equal parts angsty high-school drama and zombie apocalypse thriller. Although the zombies pose a continuous threat, they aren't the characters' most immediate problem. Most of THIS IS NOT A TEST takes place in the mostly undead-free days that the teens spend (re)acquainting themselves with one another, fighting over the mundane (how to ration cafeteria food), and struggling with the growing rancor between Trace and Cary, whom the twins blame for their parents' death just before the group reached the high school.
The most intriguing aspect of the story is Sloane's conflicting feelings. She genuinely wants to help her classmates stay alive, but she's so bereft that she's not sure she wants to keep on living herself. An intense burst of romance with Rhys seems more like a form of release than an undying (pun intended) love, but there's a promise for something more as the two emerge as the most likely to beat the overwhelming odds against them.
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