Tuesday Reads: This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

“This is not a test. Listen closely. This is not a test.” But I think she’s wrong. I think this is a test. It has to be.

I have been super craving YA horror lately, and I’m a huge sucker for good zombie stories. This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers gave me a fix for both of those, and it gave me some stuff I didn’t really know I wanted.

First, let me give you a quick summary. The bulk of this book takes place in a school where a group of teenagers is taking shelter from the zombie hoards while they try to plan a way to survive longterm. They’re each carrying secrets, they’re all hurting and scared, and they might be more dangerous to each other than the zombies outside.

12043771The thing is, although This Is Not a Test has zombies and could technically be called a zombie book, it’s not about the zombies. They’re not remotely the focus of the story or even most of the scenes. This is a book that is truly about the characters and their dynamics with each other. They fight, they form alliances, those alliances fall apart and new ones form, they plot against each other, they save each other.

There are a million things in this book that I love – little details, big-picture things – but the one that I really want to talk about is our protagonist, Sloane. See, the day the zombie apocalypse started, Sloane was ready to kill herself. Not just feeling suicidal, not just ready – she had a plan. She was about to do it when the zombies came through her front door and everything descended into chaos. She’s saved and pulled along by a group of fellow students, but she’s not quite there.

She’s not fighting for her life, she just happens to be surviving in a dying world.

She was ready to die. There’s a certain numbness to being so suicidal that you’ve made a detailed plan, and that’s where Sloane is. The zombie apocalypse didn’t magically heal that. It doesn’t instantly wake her up and make her realize that she wants to live. She continues to struggle with it throughout the book, and I love that. In a lot of apocalyptic stories, we see these extreme events either healing mental illness, or exacerbating it to the point that the person just completely breaks and dies.

In Sloane, we see nuances and complexity to her suicidal urges. We see how it’s become part of her, and it’s not something easily shaken off – but she also can’t quite get herself to do it, because now she feels responsible for the others in her group. She doesn’t want to give them a dead body to get rid of when they can’t leave the school safely. There are a lot of storylines and emotional threads to this book, but this is the one I was the most invested in, the one I most badly needed to know the resolution for.

This Is Not a Test is emotionally intense, it’s creepy, and you should absolutely read it.

STARS: 5/5

And, of course, a reminder that you can still enter to win a BOOKMARK SIGNED BY STEPHANIE DIAZ and, if you’re curious about who this new author is, check out my post about her and her debut novel, EXTRACTION.

Tuesday Reads: Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle

“This is running away. This is some punk rock New Orphans shit. This is not like any Vivian Apple I have ever been before. But this is Vivian Apple at the end of the world.”

Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle isn’t going to be out until January 6th, but I was lucky enough to borrow the UK version – Vivian Versus the Apocalypse – from Cathy Day and listen. Listen. I’m going to have some trouble doing this review without just full-on fangirl squeeing because I loved it so much.

51CU4k2l5+LFirst, let me tell you a little of what it’s about. Vivian Apple is living in a United States not entirely unlike our own, though there are even more natural disasters and mass shootings. There’s also a thing called the Church of America, which celebrates capitalism and says that women and gays are destroying the country, but it’s okay, because the Rapture is coming.

Only a lot of people believe that.

Like, a lot.

Vivian’s parents are Believers, and she’s watched as more and more of her classmates drop out of school to be taught by the Church of America. The President is a Believer. And it’s been weird, but survivable, and Vivian always thought that if she could just make it through to after the Rapture, when everyone would see that they’d been wrong, things would go back to normal. Her parents would go back to normal.

Except the Rapture comes and about five thousand people disappear inexplicably – including Vivian’s parents, who leave everything they own, a couple holes in the ceiling, and their daughter.

Only five thousand people disappear, but tens of thousands are left behind, and more Believers are being made every day, and they’re angry. They’re angry they weren’t taken, they’re angry they didn’t Believe before, and they’re looking to take it out on sinners like Vivian and her wild best friend, Harp.

So they get out of Pittsburgh with a boy they’ve just met, and they start out on a road trip to find the truth about the end of the world.

And it’s awesome. The only reason this book took me a couple weeks to read was because school kept interrupting, like it will, but yesterday I got the chance to just sit and read and that’s what I did. I stayed up and read the last couple hundred pages, and then did that thing that totally everyone else does, right, where you finish a really good back and close it and hold it close while you sort of roll around on your bed and make happy squealing noises?

Totally not just a thing I do.

The writing is great, the humor is completely my sense of humor, the world building around the Church of America’s takeover of the US is both funny and sinister and a little too plausible, but what really got me is the characters.

Vivian is a good kid. She gets good grades. She doesn’t really fight with her parents, she doesn’t get in trouble, she’s an easy, good kid, and she’s fine being that kid for a long time, but then the Rapture happens and suddenly being who she’s always been makes her feel trapped, stifled. She needs to be what Harp has always told her to be: The hero of her own story.

One of my favorite parts of this, in fact, is that in the beginning, Vivian makes a plea to the universe. “Dear Universe, make me the hero of my own story.” The universe doesn’t grant that wish for her, which is good, because if it had, Vivian wouldn’t have been quite so wonderful. Vivian is not a reactionary character. Vivian is a girl who, once she reaches that breaking point where she can’t be meek anymore, breaks out and forges her own path. She makes herself the hero of her own story, and I am completely in love with her.

I’m in love with Harpreet Janda, too, who is, in many ways, Vivian’s opposite. She’s never been the good kid. She’s been the wild child, the one who dresses on the edge of school codes or in flagrant violation of them, who doesn’t have time for authority, who has a temper and isn’t interested in being meek or obedient, and who is unendingly loyal to the people she loves.

Their friendship, by the way, also one of my favorite parts. Sometimes, even in otherwise very good YA books, the romance starts and the friendship gets left behind. It fizzles out. It becomes less important. That doesn’t happen here. Their friendship has a couple of bumps, but it doesn’t end or falter. It doesn’t get replaced by the romance. It thrives alongside it. And Harp doesn’t push Vivian to be stronger only to get jealous and mean when Vivian steps up. She’s proud. They protect and support each other.

I’m completely in love with Harp, too.

I’m also completely in love with Peter, the boy who comes with them on their road trip, and yes, Vivian’s romantic interest. He’s a mysterious boy they don’t know much about, but, refreshingly, he’s not mysterious and brooding. He’s funny. He’s kind and generous. He has secrets, but he is trustworthy, he is true. He isn’t there to rescue Vivian or to make all the decisions for her or to make her believe that she’s the most beautiful person he’s ever seen. He isn’t a romantic interest that disrupts the story. Peter, Vivian, and Harp work together as a team, and though they never say “Vivian’s the leader”, you still see Peter and Harp defer to her and trust her.

Basically, the friendship and relationship dynamics in this book are amazing. They aren’t constantly sniping at each other and belittling each other. They’re complicated, because they’re all different people with different sets of beliefs who are all pretty freaked out by this end of the world thing, but they also all care about each other and they’re all good people and good friends to each other.

This book is just beautiful, on levels, and you should be reading it.

STARS: 5/5

(I’d also like to remind you to GO ENTER to win a BOOKMARK SIGNED BY STEPHANIE DIAZ and to check out my post about her and her debut novel, EXTRACTION)

YA Reads 2014 Debut Authors Bash: Stephanie Diaz (with a GIVEAWAY!)

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Hello, friends! Today I am participating in a book tour run by the awesome site, YA Reads, that is all about celebrating new YA authors. I’m lucky enough to be hosting Stephanie Diaz. She’s 21, she just graduated summa cum laude from San Diego State University (!!!), and her debut novel EXTRACTION is out now.

Clementine has spent her whole life preparing for her sixteenth birthday, when she’ll be tested for Extraction in the hopes of being sent from the planet Kiel’s toxic Surface to the much safer Core, where people live without fear or starvation. When she proves promising enough to be “Extracted,” she must leave without Logan, the boy she loves. Torn apart from her only sense of family, Clem promises to come back and save him from brutal Surface life. 

What she finds initially in the Core is a utopia compared to the Surface—it’s free of hard labor, gun-wielding officials, and the moon’s lethal acid. But life is anything but safe, and Clementine learns that the planet’s leaders are planning to exterminate Surface dwellers, which means Logan, too.

Trapped by the steel walls of the underground and the lies that keep her safe, Clementine must find a way to escape and rescue Logan and the rest of the planet. But the planet leaders don’t want her running—they want her subdued.

With intense action scenes and a cast of unforgettable characters, Extraction is a page-turning, gripping read, sure to entertain lovers of Hunger Games and Ender’s Game, and leave them breathless for more.

As part of this tour, I got to interview Stephanie, ask her about her Top 10 YA Scifi Novels, and she is awesome enough to have THREE SIGNED BOOKMARKS to give away to three lucky winners. Be sure to enter before September 30th!

Adventures in Storyland: Since this blog tour is all about debut authors, I first want to ask – how does it feel to have your first book coming out? Are there any words to describe it?

ac0516_0229362101cf5713c32a5c8e838a8e14.jpg_srz_p_376_488_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzStephanie: It feels completely surreal. Awesome and freaking terrifying at the same time. My stomach does a little skip whenever I walk into a bookstore and see Extraction on the shelf.

We mostly expect our published authors to be in their thirties or forties or older. You’re 21. What has it been like delving into a world where your professional peers are mostly older than you?

At times it can feel intimidating dealing with older authors and publishing professionals, but everyone I’ve met and worked with has been nothing but supportive and encouraging. I haven’t ever felt like my age was a stigma in any way. Maybe I’m lucky. But I think most people realize it’s not really about how old you are; it’s about how hard you’ve worked at your craft. Whether you start at age ten or age forty, writing takes practice.

Do you have any advice for other young, aspiring writers?

Write the book you want to read. Ignore anyone who says you haven’t experienced enough of your life to write a story worth telling. Shake it off and write, write, write. And always follow your instincts.

What authors have most inspired you?
J.K. Rowling, of course. Also John Green and Veronica Roth.

9781250041173Top Ten YA Scifi Novels?

 

  • The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
  • These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
  • Across the Universe by Beth Revis
  • The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey
  • Starglass by Phoebe North
  • What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang
  • Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
  • Legend by Marie Lu
  • Reboot by Amy Tintera

 

Remember to ENTER TO WIN A SIGNED BOOKMARK.

I will see you all on Tuesday with a new book review!