This Is Not A Test

“The thing no one tells you about surviving, about the mere act of holding out, is how many hours are nothing because nothing happens. They also don’t tell you about how you can share your deepest secrets with someone, kiss them, and the next hour it’s like there’s nothing between you because not everything can mean something all the time or you’d be crushed under the weight of it.”

Title: This Is Not A Test

Author: Courtney Summers

Series: This Is Not a Test # 1

Publication: June 19th 2012 by St. Martin’s Griffin

Pages: 326

Source: My bookshelf

 

Summary from Goodreads:

It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up.

As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

 

My Thoughts:

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, Courtney Summers is an absolute goddess and the complete queen of my bookshelf. I fell in love with her work last year when I read All The Rage, a book that tore my heart and soul to shreds. Her writing never ceases to amaze me in the powerful message that it carries – and This Is Not A Test is no exception. While reading the synopsis might make you uneasy and question how a book about zombies can be as hard hitting as I claim it to be, trust me when I say this – This Is Not a Test is so much more than just another book hightailing it through the zombie craze. It is raw, unflinching, and it will make you question everything about what makes us human. 

Summers has this amazing ability to basically destroy every single plan you’ve made for a day as soon as you read the first page of her books. This Is Not A Test completely grabbed me by the throat and dragged me around kicking and screaming right form the first page – I was hooked before I’d even reached chapter one. The opening sequence of this book was intense – there is no other word for it. It doesn’t get any better from there to tell you the truth. We’re thrown straight into this complete chaotic mess of the world, starting with a regular morning in Sloane – our protagonist’s life – and then we’re off to the races as it were. There is no break, no time to catch your breath. While certain scenes might not be physically brutal or taxing, those in between the fights for survival are filled with emotional battles that are almost more intense than the ones against the zombies or even each other. This book… just wow.

Sloane. I don’t even know what to say about Sloane. When we first meet her, she has no intention of wanting to live. Her sister abandoned her to an abusive father. The world is ending. She is alone. She wants to die – but she holds on. She holds on despite her best efforts to have it end any other way than with her own survival. It was a very strange, eye opening experience – reading a book from the point of view from someone that doesn’t even want to be there. I am so used to a strong, badass heroine doing everything in their power to keep on kicking – and Sloane was the complete opposite. She is still badass, ruthless, and utterly compelling – but for entirely different reasons. She will make you think. She will make you question everything you’ve ever thought about what it means to survive.

Then there are the other students: Cary, Rhys, Trace, Grace, and Harrison. All of them end up trapped together in the high school. They are together, struggling to survive… and boy, do they add to the story. I think this is part of Summers’ mastery – she has this ability to make supporting characters who are so raw and undeniably essential. We get to know them all. We see them cry, we learn their weakness and their vulnerabilities. They are all simply exposed in this new version of hell. It was heartbreaking. I’m still trying to figure out just how I feel about all of them because they just add so much. They turn an already harrowing scenario into a full throttle mental mine field just waiting to blow up at the slightest provocation. The addition of the supporting characters, and the role each individual plays, really nails down the main question of this book. Who is the real enemy? What if the real enemy is you?

Courtney Summers has once again created something worthy of every possible award known to man. This Is Not A Test will make you question everything you think you know about yourself and what you think you are willing to do to survive. This book will rip your chest open and never let the wound close. What are you willing to do to survive and can you live with the answer?

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Teaser Tuesday # 17

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading

This weeks Teaser Tuesday is for This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers!

“The thing no one tells you about surviving, about the mere act of holding out, is how many hours are nothing because nothing happens. They also don’t tell you about how you can share your deepest secrets with someone, kiss them, and the next hour it’s like there’s nothing between you because not everything can mean something all the time or you’d be crushed under the weight of it.”

“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.”

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What We Saw

“What does it mean to say yes? To consent to a kiss? To a touch? To more than that?”

Title: What We Saw

Author: Aaron Hartzler

Series: Standalone

Publication: September 22nd 2015 by Harper Teen

Pages: 336

Source: Publisher at ALA Annual

Summary:

Kate Weston can piece together most of the bash at John Doone’s house: shots with Stacey Stallard, Ben Cody taking her keys and getting her home early—the feeling that maybe he’s becoming more than just the guy she’s known since they were kids.

But when a picture of Stacey passed out over Deacon Mills’s shoulder appears online the next morning, Kate suspects she doesn’t have all the details. When Stacey levels charges against four of Kate’s classmates, the whole town erupts into controversy. Facts that can’t be ignored begin to surface, and every answer Kate finds leads back to the same question: Where was Ben when a terrible crime was committed?

This story—inspired by real events—from debut novelist Aaron Hartzler takes an unflinching look at silence as a form of complicity. It’s a book about the high stakes of speaking up, and the razor thin line between guilt and innocence that so often gets blurred, one hundred and forty characters at a time.

My Thoughts:

Wow…just wow. I finished What We Saw mere moments before sitting down to write this review and I don’t even know what to think right now. I’m overwhelmed, my brain is fried and my heart is both hurting and singing the praises of this wonderful novel. I don’t know what to say, I can’t find the words within myself to express how important books like this are. What We Saw is powerful, it challenges us to think of what our silence can do to other people, of what the difference between right and wrong truly is. Is being a bystander while a girl is raped considered helping the rapist? What about having the video of the rape and trying to cover it all up? This book was brutal, it was gut wrenching, and it has me at a loss for words.

Kate Weston can’t remember anything from the night of the party other than Ben driving her home and Stacey Stallard’s arm over her shoulder while the two of them took shots. The following week at school, four boys are arrested for the rape of Stacey Stallard and the distribution of child pornography (AKA: The video and photos they took while raping her). The problem is, no one believes Stacey. She was wearing a short skirt, she got drunk, so clearly it is her fault, right? Wrong, but no one says that. It’s her fault, she is dragging these boy’s good names through the dirt for no good reason – and that is what pissed me off the most. The entire town is the epitome of rape culture. The boys are angels, even with all the evidence (which, by the way, the coaches and teachers at the school are covering up – obviously). If you speak up for Stacey, try to figure out what actually happened that night, or even question one of the boys – you become an instant pariah and social outcast. It was appalling.

Writing this review is so hard – God, I don’t even know what to say. I loved this book, I have read multiple books about rape: All The Rage and Some Boys to name a few. All three books focus on a girl who is raped by the town’s golden boy, or in this case, boys. All three books focus on the aftermath, the hunt for the truth, and the brutal way these girls are treated. But, What We Saw is different than the other two novels – this book is not from the point of view of the victim, rather, this book is told from Kate Weston’s point of view, just another girl who was at the party. It provided a really unique voice to the story – an outside perspective on the events rather than someone who was directly affected by it. All Kate wants is to learn the truth, to know what really happened to Stacey the night of the party. I really liked Kate as a character. I liked that she questioned things when everyone else jumped to the basketball players side and that she wanted to find out the truth, not for gossip, but because the truth needed to be told. She showed a lot of growth as she struggled with herself over what right, who to trust, and who to protect. She tried her hardest to do what was right, to ignore what would happen if she told the truth after she found it – and I admire that strength. She isn’t perfect, she isn’t the character you think she is going to be. She doesn’t run to the victim’s defense right off the bat, she doesn’t instantly stop hanging out with the accused, she goes along with the teasing and even agrees that Stacey had to have done something to deserve it. But, Kate is real. She asks questions, she feels, she is curious, she cares – she even attempts to blend into the rest of the school, even though she knows that it isn’t right. She is such a real person, she doesn’t stand out from the crowd – she does exactly what most people today would do. What makes her incredible is that she allows herself to have an opinion when the rest of the world around her has already decided on what opinion to have.
In my last review, Lock & Mori, I wrote a paragraph about how the two girls were sexually harassed in the park and then called bitches because they couldn’t accept a compliment. This book also takes an in depth look as to how women and the victims of rape are treated after trying to come forward. There is a scene early on, after Stacey initially makes her allegations, where Kate searches the hashtag #R&P and finds a hoard of cruel words and threats thrown at the rape victim.

“@BuccsRock: Gonna rape her good for Sure now. #r&p #buccsincuffs
@Pheebus17: White trash ho was so drunk she couldn’t tell a dick from a doughnut. #buccsincuffs
@fr0nt&center: If we lose state cause of this whore she’s gonna get more than raped. #r&P #buccsincuffs”

How messed up is that? But, it is the truth of what happens in today’s society. It is the girls fault for getting drunk, for flirting with her rapist before he rapes her, for wearing something sexy, for not being coherent enough to verbally say no, for being unconscious. Stacey is completely unconscious when they rape her, and yet, no one cares or does a thing to stop it.

Overall, What We Saw is a powerful book that will make you stop and think about everything you see on social media. What you see isn’t always the truth, we all must unleash the bravery to come forward and question what we see, what we read, what we hear. This book does not sugar coat the ripple effects a single action, word, or tweet can have on a person. Hartzler’s book is one of the must read books of this year, if you don’t already have plans to buy it – make them.

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I also want to take a moment here to direct you to Lady Gaga’s new music video “Til It Happens To You”. The video is meant to raise awareness of rape on college campuses and the proceeds are being given to organizations that help victims of sexual assault. This is a powerful video,  I’ve watched it about five times already and each time I end up a bawling mess.

Lock & Mori

“Nothing is more pressing than the truth”

Title: Lock & Mori

Author: Heather w. Petty

Series: Lock & Mori # 1

Publication: September 15th 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Pages: 256

Source: Publisher at ALA Annual

Summary:

In modern-day London, two brilliant high school students, one Sherlock Holmes and a Miss James “Mori” Moriarty, meet. A murder will bring them together. The truth very well might drive them apart.

Before they were mortal enemies, they were much more.

FACT: Someone has been murdered in London’s Regent’s Park. The police have no leads.

FACT: Miss James “Mori”Moriarty and Sherlock “Lock” Holmes should be hitting the books on a school night. Instead, they are out crashing a crime scene.

FACT: Lock has challenged Mori to solve the case before he does. Challenge accepted.

FACT: Despite agreeing to Lock’s one rule–they must share every clue with each other–Mori is keeping secrets.

OBSERVATION: Sometimes you can’t trust the people closest to you with matters of the heart. And after this case, Mori may never trust Lock again.

My Thoughts:

Now, to be perfectly honest, I know nothing about Sherlock Holmes. I have never read the books and never watched the BBC show (though it is on my binge watch list for spring break). I have, though, seen the two movies with Robert Downy Jr – which is what first interested me in this book. I love those movies, I don’t know if that is an unpopular opinion – but I think Robert Downey Jr nails it. Lock & Mori takes an entirely different view on a beloved classic. From what I can gather, no one knows anything about Moriarty – only what they know from Sherlock himself, so why not explore that a little? Lock & Mori is an outstanding work of art that takes what we think we know and turns it on its head.
In this book, Moriarty is just a normal high schooler (not really). She has perfect grades, perfect attendance, is nothing short of genius, and has this beautifully complex mind that solves puzzles like it is nobody’s business. She meets Sherlock, the school’s resident hermit scientist whose mother bribed the headmaster into letting him run a lab downstairs in the basement. Long story short, Lock and Mori meet, Lock challenges her to solve a murder before him, and then chaos of all sorts ensues – and it was fabulous.
Petty takes an interesting view point on who Moriarty is as an individual and her backstory. I had no idea who she or the original Moriarty were in context coming when I started reading this, so I think that I enjoyed it a little more than I should have when I have so many essays and exams next week. Moriarty’s father is abusive, horribly so towards her younger brothers but only verbally towards her. I hated him right from the start, what kind of father calls his daughter a slag (which I believe is British slang for slut, correct me if I am wrong)? An asshole kind of father, that’s who. I wanted to kill him! I swear I am not a violent person, but I wanted to wrap my hands around his throat and shake him. Mori is beautifully strong. She protects her brothers, she takes the full brunt of her father’s anger just so he will leave them alone – no matter how horrible it makes her feel. Trust me, it is pretty big “cock-up” (more slang from the book). I don’t know how else to put this, but she is one brave individual and I love her for that. Not only is she outstanding in the scope of how far she is willing to go to protect the ones she loves, she is a genius. I love having a brilliant main character, I think it makes things so much more interesting. Logic is fun, reading a character’s thought process as they solve a case is even more fun. I will say this, though, she isn’t really a likeable character at the beginning – she isn’t nice and she is very emotionally detached. But, I understand her, I sympathize with her, and I found her to be incredibly compelling. I can see the beginnings of this master villain and arch nemeses that she is supposed to be in the future, but if I didn’t know that from my roommate’s rants about Sherlock, I never would have guessed it until the end of the book. She is just so perfect, not in the Mary Sue way, but in the way that she is exactly the main character this book needed.
I had no idea as to what Sherlock was supposed to be like when I went into this, much like how I had no clue who Moriarty was when I started. All I know of him is what I saw when I watched the movies: Sherlock Holmes is a sociopathic genius with a razor sharp wit and scary observation skills. Lock, for me at least, captured that perfectly while simultaneously making Sherlock a very loveable character. Throughout the book, we have beautiful examples of his sass, his brilliance, and his inability to empathize and realize when he offends someone with his words. Truth is the only thing that matters to him, until he meets Mori that is. He cares about her, and it was heartbreakingly beautiful to read the moments when we could see what he was feeling. I just have to say this, Petty has created an image of the infamous Sherlock Holmes that will stick in my mind forever.
There is one thing I want to bring up, and I don’t meant to go off on a rampage, but I can’t help it. This isn’t going to be a bad rant, Petty actually took a horrible issue in today’s society and made it bearable. There is a scene later in the book, when Mori and her best friend, Sadie, are walking through the park. While they are walking through the park, a group of boys starts to harass them. This isn’t innocent or sweet cat calling I’m talking about here, I mean this is full on sexual harassment.

“That one there’s passable, but her friend here’s pretty fuckable” (153)
“Don’t be shy. I got a big one for ya!” The one in the cap grabbed his crotch as we walked by..” (153)
“Always wanted to ride a Yank. Wanna come for a ride, babe?” (153)
“I like it when they’re lippy… Like to imagine just what those lips could do for me.” (154)

The point I am trying to make here, is not a bad one. Though, what pissed me off the most about this is that when Mori confronts them to try and make them apologize, the ringleader says this: “ It’s a compliment, see. You bitches just don’t know when to say thank you.” (154). This is a huge and extremely controversial issue right now, and I think that it always will be. They make extremely rude, degrading comments and then the woman is a bitch for getting upset. Sadie, the “Yank” the comments are directed to, is physically trembling in fear at this point and yet they continue despite her protests. What Petty did here, was show what happens when a woman tries to defend herself against cat calling in public. Sure, we know not all men are like this – I am not an idiot, but this still shows something that is far too common. It is the woman’s fault for dressing a certain way, for giving a certain look, for not fighting hard enough – any excuse they can find, they make it. Mori takes control here, which is one of the reasons I love her so much. She defends her friend, she forces them to truly apologize, and she makes sure her friend was okay afterwards. Petty took a serious issue and handled it so beautifully I had to talk about it.
Lock & Mori is a revamped version of one of the greatest stories of all time. It is so full of mystery, suspense, love, heartbreak, and betrayal that you will be hanging off the edge of your seat waiting to find out what is next while simultaneously wiping away your tears. This is one book that is a must read this fall – trust me, you want a copy.

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Faking Normal

“There are no words to this music, and that makes me sad. Every song deserves lyrics. Deserves a story to tell.”

Title: Faking Normal
Author: Courtney Stevens
Series: Faking Normal # 1
Publication: February 25th 2014 by HarperTeen
Genre: Romance, Contemporary
Pages: 336
Source: Author

Summary:
An edgy, realistic, and utterly captivating novel from an exciting new voice in teen fiction.
Alexi Littrell hasn’t told anyone what happened to her over the summer. Ashamed and embarrassed, she hides in her closet and compulsively scratches the back of her neck, trying to make the outside hurt more than the inside does.
When Bodee Lennox, the quiet and awkward boy next door, comes to live with the Littrells, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend in “the Kool-Aid Kid,” who has secrets of his own. As they lean on each other for support, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her find the courage to finally face the truth.
A searing, poignant book, Faking Normal is the extraordinary debut novel from an exciting new author-Courtney C. Stevens.
My Thoughts:

Usually, upon finishing a book, I think about it for a little while, write my review and then wave goodbye and move onto the next book on my TBR shelf. But with this book? There is a distinctively dull and painful ache that has yet to fade. I don’t know how else to describe it. I hurt, my heart hurts, my head hurts – everything hurts and every single part of me wants more of it.

Faking Normal, as books of this topic usually are, is not easy to stomach. It is brutal, it is graphic, it will tear your heart into little tiny pieces and then dance over what remains while laughing maniacally. This book deals with a controversial, taboo subject that never ceases to make my blood boil: rape.

Every day on the news we see reports of victims, women, young girls, men, who have been raped or sexually assaulted. There are scandals like Bill Cosby and then there are issues that we don’t really hear about like the twelve year old girl in Oregon who was raped numerous times by her father. These are the minority, the ones who have cried out for help, gone to the police, and tried to do something about what was done to them. This is such a small percentage that it breaks my heart, I can hardly stand to think about the others out there that we don’t even know about – but I do, because this is the norm.

The majority of rape victims have never spoken out, like our protagonist Alexi. These individuals have lost their ability to cry out for help, to say no, to fight back. These are the victims who fear coming out, who fear speaking up because of how they think it will change the world around them. They, like Alexi, don’t want to be known as “that girl”. They are terrified of the way people will look at them, especially the ones who don’t believe them.

I guess I should end my sort of rant now, I couldn’t help myself.

Faking Normal was brutal in its portrayal of the silent and suffering victim. It was all so real, so genuine, that I felt as if I was in Alexi’s shoes – and it made me want to throw up. I can understand where she is coming from for the most part, that idea of worthlessness the dirtiness, the need for release yet no way to let the pain out – all of it was far too real for me and far too close to home to let me walk away from this book unscathed. Victims of sexual assault hurting themselves is not unheard of, it is actually one of the things that the hospital and the counselors look out for. Alexi is just another wonderfully portrayed example of this. She tears at the skin of the back of her neck to try and keep the pain inside when faced with something she can’t handle. She puts on this mask to hide herself from the world while simultaneously trying to lie to herself and pretend that everything is okay when it really isn’t.

When we are introduced to Alexi she is a complete wreck. As I have already said, she is so deeply traumatized that she has to hide herself in her closet and dig her nails into her neck just to keep a straight face in front of her attacker and her family. Her characterization was pure perfection, as was her story arc and the way she dealt with the things thrown at her throughout the course of the novel. Stevens has crafted every single character with such care and devotion that each of them has a distinct voice and an amazingly in-depth personality. Alexi, despite her fractured interior, is filled with the normal – but selective to her situation – romantic fantasies about a dream guy and hilarious commentary on what is going on around her. She is broken and shattered, but she is also trying to hold herself together as best as she possibly can. Bodee, oh how I loved Bodee. He is unquestionably book boyfriend material that can even stand on the same pedestal as James Cairstairs. He is equally broken, but for different reasons. He was so kind, so generous, but so imperfectly real that I found it impossible not to love him. Despite being a man of few words – he’d be more likely to tell you something through a certain look or a tiny gesture rather than saying it out loud, Bodee was an essential part of Alexi’s journey, and vice versa. He had a very strong presence throughout the novel and I really enjoyed it. He was so observant and caring; he could tell you a million things just with one silent moment.

Faking Normal is beautiful, heart wrenching, and a must read novel. It is not easy to read, though there are happy moments that make it bearable, but it will hit you straight in the gut. Buy this book, rent it from the library, steal it from a friend – do whatever you need to do to read this. You won’t regret it.