I’ve said it before, and obviously, I’m about to say it again – I do not like zombie stories. Every so often, I have to swallow my pride and admit that I’ve found one I like. It happened with The Forest of Hands and Teeth. And then again with World War Z (the book – Not the movie). And again with The Girl with All the Gifts. And now, it’s happened again – this time with This is Not A Test. What all these books have in common is that they’re not really zombie novels. They’re character studies that happen to contain zombies. TINAT is the most non-zombie, and the one I like the best, in the aforementioned novels. There are zombies in like 20% of the story and even then, they’re mostly background noise. Literally, sometimes, all that’s there is their ragged breathing. What this is, is a story about destruction. The slow, systematic removal of a person’s strength and self. The inability to feel safe in the one place a child should feel the safest. If you’re planning to read this novel, just stop here and go do it. I’m going to talk about the content, there’s no way to talk about anything in, or before, this novel without giving away the stuff that makes it good.
Sloane and her older sister, Lily, have been under their father’s control for years. Not the way most children are. Not in a strict parent kind of way. But an unbelievable abusive father. Who inspected their bodies to make sure their bruises didn’t show. Wearing his daughter’s down slowly and brutally. But they had a plan. A plan to get away as soon as they were old enough. Both old enough that their father couldn’t do anything about it. That plan, the prospect of getting away, was the only thing keeping Sloane sane. They just had to wait until Sloane turned eighteen. And then Lily left her. Ran away. Put the plan into motion – early and alone. Leaving her younger sister behind. And Sloane took the brunt of all of their father’s anger. He lost control until he beat her so badly she couldn’t go to school. Sloane is destroyed by Lily’s betrayal. Even more than she is by the physical abuse. All of this happens before the novel even starts. It’s all the background noise to Sloane’s life. The things that have brought her to the side of the tub, contemplating suicide, where she sits when the novel starts. We get no slow build here. Summers just throws us right into the centre of Sloane’s misery. Continue reading