Release Date: October 25th 2012
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Source: Copy provided by publisher for review
Two teens try to save a class of first-graders from a gun-wielding soldier suffering from PTSD
When high school seniors Emery and Jake are taken hostage in the classroom where they tutor, they must work together to calm both the terrified children and the gunman threatening them--a task made even more difficult by their recent break-up. Brian Stutts, a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq, uses deadly force when he's denied access to his son because of a custody battle. The children's fate is in the hands of the two teens, each recovering from great loss, who now must reestablish trust in a relationship damaged by betrayal. Told through Emery and Jake's alternating viewpoints, this gripping novel features characters teens will identify with and explores the often-hidden damages of war.
Don't let the 224 page count fool you--This is Not a Drill is a roller coaster ride! The overall pacing is brisk and the characters are well fleshed out. As the story progresses, you get to know Emery and Jake better; their reasons for working with the first-graders, where the friction between them originated, and peeks into their own childhood and upbringing. Additionally, I'm glad Brian Stutts' character is also developed, instead of leaving him as a flat, gun-totting villain--a.k.a. essentially just a plot device. I think this character building really helped sell the story for me; it made the situation more realistic and helped me understand why each character acted the way he/she did and where they were coming from. While I enjoyed learning more about the characters, I'm really glad the author kept the story's momentum going and did not sacrifice good pacing for too much backstory. The pacing was a tad slow at points, but was quite good overall. I'm sure we've all read books where the author does a fantastic job at world building and initially sets an excellent pace, but unfortunately the pace begins to slow when the story goes on winding tangents or is weighed down by overly-long back stories that include details that do nothing to enhance the characters.
Overall, I think author Beck McDowell does a good job creating an tense atmosphere and making the story realistic. If it had been too over-the-top, I don't think it would as an intense of a read for me. There's been a lot of violence in the news lately and several school shootings have rocked the nation in recent history. An armed individual entering a school is not doubt one of the worst fears a parent could have--I just hope that such violence and events like this become just stories in fiction in the very near future.
Overall: 4 out of 5
Plot: 4 stars
Characters: 4 stars
Writing: 4.25 stars
Cover: 3 stars