Saturday, September 08, 2012

Problem #3: Suicide. . . and Zombies

For the final installation of my posts featuring the problem novel, I come to the subject of suicide.  Teen books abound with characters considering suicide, recovering from suicide attempts, or facing the aftermath of a loved one's suicide.  In Courtney Summers's This Is Not a Test, our main character Sloane starts the novel prepared to commit suicide.  She can no longer abide her abusive father's violence or the fact that her beloved older sister ran away and left her behind.  Sloane's plan to overdose has been derailed because her stash of sleeping pills is missing, and she sits at the breakfast table with a suicide note in her pocket, wondering how she can continue her plan another way.

That's when the zombie apocalypse happens.

In an incredible, high-adrenaline opening zombies crash through her living room picture window, the world goes up in flames and chaos, the dead have risen.  And they're hungry.

Problem solved?  No, somehow despite that Sloane wants to die, she turns out to be one of a handful of survivors.  The irony is intense.  People desperate to live die and turn into monsters, but Sloane makes it to the high school with five other kids, alive when she should be dead, the suicide note written to her sister still in her pocket.  From here the novel turns into a psychological conflict between survivors.  Though the high school provides a safe, temporary haven (especially handy because there is a water tank that hasn't yet drained out) the tension between the survivors' leader, teenage Gary Chen, and two of the other survivors, twin sister and brother Grace and Trace Casper, threatens to destroy everyone.  Trace and Grace's parents were overwhelmed by zombies on the way to the school and the twins blame Chen.  Did he lead the Caspers into harm's way on purpose?  Everyone is starting to crack a little.  Sloane is especially near the edge, her instinct to die battling with her instinct to live.  How long can the kids stay at the school?  How long before the monsters outside make their way in?  Has anyone else survived?

This was an awesome zombie novel.  I was immediately in love with the premise but worried about how the author could possibly pull it off.  She did it.  This book is a perfect mix of action and psychology--physical and psychological conflict galore.   For all zombie tales the reader has to have a higher-than-average willing suspension of disbelief.  Summers manages to make the zombie apocalypse instantly believable.  The reader gets on board at once, accepting the fact of the hungry dead and the urgency of the conflict facing all the survivors.  The writing is fluid and forward-moving.  The book doesn't suffer from an instant of down time.  (Comparing it to The Forest of Hands and Teeth, for instance, where oodles of time is spent action-free.) I enjoyed though I didn't like all of the characters.  I pulled for Sloane and found her psychological situation unique and intriguing.

If you're a zombie fan and a YA-lit fan, this book was made for you. No problem.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to see your review - I, too, loved This is not a Test, but worried it was in large part due to my LOVE of zombie storylines! :)