Monday, August 6, 2012

This is Not a Test - Review and a Discussion

So, okay, the title of this post is a lie. I don't really review books. And I don't really have to give this book a critical review. It was so good, so shocking, all I have to do is recommend it - strongly.

In fact, I liked it so much, even when I was only thirty pages in, I had to go on Facebook, and tell Courtney how excited I was. I can't find the actual comment anymore, but I can paraphrase myself: "You know that feeling you get? When you start a book, and it's better than you expected? Better than you ever could have hoped? Because it's a Zombie book that isn't about Zombies, and the author had the balls to write the f-word in a YA novel, and the characters are so alive, even though they're surrounded by a dead world? Yeah, THAT feeling."

Anyway, I was probably being melodramatic, but I really was that excited. Partly because great, hardcore dark YA like this is rare, and something I love, but also because I realized that as much as I love Zombies, I'd never actually read a great Zombie book. Which made this cool, even though it wasn't really about Zombies.

I borrowed this one from a friend, based mostly on what I'd heard about the premise, but also because of his opinion. However, I really had no idea what I was in for. TiNaT (as it's cleverly denoted within the book) is not your average YA novel. Nor is it even your average Zompoc.

Sure, this book has an infected-based apocalypse as its backdrop, and it's a powerful one. One that serves as a stark frame through which the harsh dynamics of human interaction and the sour ache of relationships that still exist after everything else is gone are viewed like the antics of a Greek tragedy through the proscenium of a single life. It's a hard story, a brutal story, one influenced by parental abuse, and apathy, and the reality of facing a bleak future from the eyes of a damaged and abandoned young girl.

I do have to disagree with Shaun. Don't get me wrong, I loved Cary Chen. Seriously LOVED this character, especially at the end (although his courage was phenomenal throughout), but really it was Rhys for me that sealed the deal on this book. Yes, Sloane was the best character, but she was the MC and the narrator, and it's no surprise for her to be flawed-but-awesome in this kind of book. What was even more compelling, for me, especially as an adult male reader of a YA novel, was that Rhys was so human. I mean the kid was kind of a bitch at times, and Sloane could barely put up with him, but in the end, the dedication they had to each others survival was the one thread that kept me into this book for the long haul.

So, I'm sorry that recommendation went on so long, because the real point of this post was to ask a question of our teen readers.

What I want to know is, are there any subjects that are completely taboo in YA literature? Or maybe I should ask, are there any kinds of topics you, as a reader, are absolutely not interested in reading? And I don't mean are you tired of dystopians and love triangles.

I mean, how much drug abuse could you handle reading? Obviously no one should write a novel glorifying drug use, but it is a reality for some teens, so shouldn't we write honestly about it?

What about physical abuse? How much can you take in the books you read? Our society creates a lot of media that glorifies violence, but what about the other end of the spectrum? How much brutal violence can you handle as a reader for the sake of authenticity in a story?

And then there's sex. Obviously a lot of teenagers are having sex. Teenagers aren't the only people who read YA novels, but their opinions should still be key. Have you ever read a YA novel that had "on screen" sex scenes? How do you think it was handled? If you haven't, do you think you would be okay with it? Or would you skip or skim that part?

Please share your thoughts in the comments. In particular, I want to hear from our teen readers, but everyone is entitled to their opinion, so please don't be shy. Oh, and if you're into extremely honest books, that mention Zombies near the beginning, but really are about fully-realized characters and the sting of human interaction, you should definitely pick up This is Not a Test.


Nancy Thompson said...

For someone who doesn't do reviews, that was a great one. I will definitely check out this book. Thanks! I always appreciate a recommendation.

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