Audiobook Review: This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers

18 01 2013

This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Read by Stephanie Cannon

AudioGo

Length: 6 Hrs 58 Min

Genre: YA Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: If you’re looking for an apocalyptic thrill ride full of hardcore zombie action and blood gurgling horror, This Is Not a Test may not fit your bill. Yet, if you enjoy well written, atmospheric tales full of complex problems with no easy answers, then you absolutely should give this one a try.

Grade: B

As a huge fan of the Zombie genre, I love when a novel has cross genre appeal. I think it is great when people who typically wouldn’t be drawn to books about the shambling carnivorous undead take a chance on a book featuring them. Yet, there is also a level of frustration to it. People will often tag their praise of such a novel with “It’s not really about Zombies.” Now, I understand this. People don’t want others who may be turned off by these horror icons to avoid the book. Yet, I find these sort of caveats up there with the term “guilty pleasure.” I like zombies. There is no shame in enjoying tales of ravenous hordes of undead as they tear through society one infected bite at a time. Yet, most importantly, most good zombie novels aren’t really about the zombies. In fact, there is a lot of great horror tales out there that aren’t about the monsters and evil, but the people it affects. Horror is about extremes, about how people react when they are put in these horrible situations. It’s easy to create characters that rise above their troubles, when their troubles are romantic entanglements or minor financial setbacks. Yet, when each decision you make could lead to a horrific death, it is much harder for the humanity to bubble to the surface. This is why horror often features flawed characters from tough situations. These people have already survived the horrors or regular life so taking on Monsters isn’t that big of a change. So, yes, This Is Not a Test is not really about Zombies but it definitely is about the living dead.

16 year old Sloane Price was already dead inside when the undead came. Abandoned by her sister and left in the hands of a controlling and abusive father, Sloane just wanted it all to end. Now, with the world in chaos, she finds herself holed up in a school with a group of her classmates. As the tension grows, and conflict blooms Sloane sees the infected bite of the undead as a potential solution to all her problems. This Is Not a Test is a moody, atmospheric tale of isolation, both physical and emotional, set within the chaotic world of the Zombie Apocalypse. Summers explores a lot of interesting issues involving acceptance, social perceptions and status that seem to permeate YA literature today, yet does it in a fresh way. I loved that throughout the whole novel, Summers stays true to her character. This is not a story of redemption or revelation but a detailed look at a broken girl in the most extreme situations. Filtering the conflicts and entanglements of the various characters through the eyes of someone so isolated, allowed Summers to skip past the caricatures, and create a group full of realistic and frustrating characters. Yet, This Is Not a Test isn’t, like many Zombie novels, about surviving the survivors. This Is Not A Test is about attempting to survive yourself and your history. Each character must come to terms with decisions, past occurrences or simply the perceived perceptions of their peers to find whether or not they can fit into this changed world and the answer is rarely yes. This is what makes this novel a tough listen. There is little in the way of thrills and chills of a traditional manner. Summers writing has a claustrophobic feel, trapping you in the mind of her main character, and it’s not always an easy place to be. If you’re looking for an apocalyptic thrill ride full of hardcore zombie action and blood gurgling horror, This Is Not a Test may not fit your bill. Yet, if you enjoy well written, atmospheric tales full of complex problems with no easy answers, then you absolutely should give this one a try.

Stephanie Cannon delivers a solid but flawed reading of this novel. Sloane is not an easy character, and Cannon reads her with an emotional deadness that while appropriate to the tale, made it less than engaging for the listener. Also, her muted tones transferred over to many of the other characters, and while they had somewhat different voices, the rhythms and cadence remained constant for every character creating confusing dialogue. It was also hard to determine Sloane’s internal and external dialogue, making you wonder at times whether she said something or just thought it. For a novel that was so intimate, and took place largely in the head of one character this could be problematic. Yet, I also thought Cannon did a good job capturing the mood and rhythms of Summer’s prose. She transitioned well from slower moments to the action, and allowed listeners to follow along well. Overall, I felt the production was well done, but the style of the book was either better suited to print, or could have used a narrator with a bit more vocal diversity.

Note: Thanks to AudioGo for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

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One response

18 01 2013
Carl V.

Speaking of Zombies, did you read this week’s Mind Meld over on SF Signal?

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