Book Reviews

Review: This Is Not A Drill by Beck McDowell

Even though I work in a bookstore, I still get excited about our post Christmas sale. Quite a few of our books that we haven’t been able to sell and can’t return to the publishers get reduced to bargain prices. So when I saw a copy of This Is Not A Drill sitting in our ‘Bargain Books’ section at a steal, I bought it without even thinking about it.

In this young adult (YA) novel, Emery and Jake are two high school students who are volunteer French tutors in a first grade classroom at the local junior school. One morning they find themselves involuntarily in the middle of a deadly hostage crisis – Brian Stutts, a returned soldier from Iraq, has walked into their classroom with a gun and is demanding to be allowed to take his son. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Stutts is drunk, agitated and highly volatile. Despite their own personal differences, Emery and Jake must work together in order to keep things calm – both the children and Stutts – as well as try and find a way to get help and get everyone out of the situation alive.

This story is told from Emery and Jake’s alternating viewpoints. This allows us as readers to see how each of them deals with the situation in the classroom, as well as providing two differing points of view on their shared, personal history together. Having two main characters, and therefore two main narration ‘voices’, also allows the novel to appeal in equal measure to both a male and female audience. This novel is definitely thought provoking and highly relatable to the YA reader on many different levels.

In this day and age, where gun-related crimes are prevalent in the media, This Is Not A Drill deals with some very topical and very real issues. How many times have we read about a gunman finding his way into a school in America? How many times have we seen footage of law enforcement surrounding a building where a gunman has gone on a shooting spree? Even closer to home for me, this novel made me think of the Martin Place Siege that took place in Sydney the week before Christmas last year. This novel also deals with the issue of PTSD in returned service men and women, and how it can be difficult and damaging, not just to the individual, but also to their loved ones. It leaves the reader thinking that a lot more needs to be done in order to help those who suffer from PTSD.

This novel was both suspenseful and thought provoking, two things that are not often found side by side in many YA novels. It is certainly something I hope to see more of in this genre! At only 222 pages, this novel is an easy read and will likely appeal to even those reluctant readers aged 12+.

Rating: 3/5