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Hilary T. Smith
Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera
Bryan Peterson
This is Not a Test - Courtney Summers This Is Not A Test is an incredibly intense and psychologically gruelling novel to read. It had me in a stranglehold from the first page, from Sloane’s opening words, which almost echo with the emptiness carved out by her sister's absence. While her pain bleeds through the pages in places, there’s also something detached, cold, about her narration. Because her mind has been made up. She’s resolved. Until the morning the world shatters.In depicting her vision of the zombie apocalypse, Summers uses restraint to masterful effect. The horror of the undead is rendered more powerful by the suggestion of their presence, like the sound of them hammering against doors in their hunger, as opposed to always placing them in the limelight. Similarly, by barricading six teenagers into a school, it’s the constant fear of a breach that stretches the nerves to breaking point, rather than an endless gore-fest. Which is not to say that This Is Not A Test doesn’t contain disturbing images of violence or pay homage to the genre of zombie horror – it does – but the effectiveness is amplified by the enormous amount of tension that has been wound up in the plot.The scenario of six people thrown together, under siege by the rabid infected and forced to make snap judgements with life or death ramifications, makes for a mental battleground. The dynamic balances on a knife-edge, allegiances and motivations threatened by accusations, guilt and desperation born out of the desire to live (or die). At work beneath the more obvious conflicts are the character’s own internal battles, and the larger questions of what it means to take or save a life, and at what cost do they preserve their own. Who is the real enemy - the undead, or the darker side of human nature?This Is Not A Test almost defies categorisation. It’s a hybrid of sorts, and the brutal emotional honesty is not sacrificed in order to continue ratcheting up the tension. It sounds strange, but the juxtaposition of the contemporary elements with the horror premise work exceptionally well. The parallels between the internal and external fight to survive are powerful, and there is a depth and relevance to this story in it’s insightful portrayal of pain, loss, grief, and ultimately, choice. In Sloane, Summers has created a character and a story that hit me right in the chest. I felt an almost relentless ache for her, for what had compelled her to make her decision. And yet never does the writing feel gratuitous or melodramatic. It feels painfully realistic, all the more powerful for the things that are left unspoken, the profound silences between the scenes. I was exhausted when I finished This Is Not A Test. I felt mentally, emotionally, physically (because I stayed up so late to read it) wrung out – and the haunting final scene of the book lingered with me days afterwards. I’m a little bit in awe of this book. And I’m going to start sleeping with a cricket bat under my bed.