When high school seniors—and former couple—Emery and Jake find themselves held hostage in a first grade classroom, they must do all they can to protect the kids. Brian Stutts, a U.S. soldier suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after serving in Iraq, pulls out his gun to convince the teacher to hand over the son he’s not allowed to check out because of a custody battle. The situation turns deadly when a security guard appears at the door and Stutts impulsively opens fire. When the teacher is carried from the room, the children’s fate is in the hands of Emery and Jake. While Jake searches for a way to communicate with the policemen surrounding the building, Emery, fighting her shyness, fear, and POTS symptoms, tries to reach out to the soldier. She gains a new understanding of what he faced in Iraq, and discovers remarkable strength in his small son.
This Is Not a Drill is a heartbreaking story of a soldier home from war but not quite all there. It’s an unflinching look at PTSD and the ravages of war. This is a heavier YA book but one that I am so glad I read.
Emery and Jake used to be more than friends but now they can barely stand to be the same room together. Emery is a studious girl who knows exactly what she wants in life and what she needs to do to get it. Jake is the exact opposite. No one ever saw them lasting as a couple but even broken up they still care about each other; they just hide it from everyone, even themselves. Long after their break up they are stuck together tutoring the same class of first-graders; the same class of first-graders that is held hostage by a soldier home from war with PTSD. Emery and Jake are all that stand between a crazed gunman and the children and it’s up to them to work together to save everyone, including themselves.
The book is told in alternating point-of-views which really helps get across how Jake and Emery each feel about what is going on and also what went on in their past and how they still feel about each other. Emery is rather hard to connect with at first. She’s a bit too studious and it seems like she is a bit unfeeling. She also has an anxiety disorder which seemed a little unnecessary to me. It just didn’t play a very big role in the story. It was almost like an afterthought. She does become easier to like as the book goes on but since it is such a short book I would have liked to have connected with her from the beginning. Jake, on the other hand, is easy to relate to and he’s super likable. He’s a screw up and he doesn’t think very highly of himself. He knows he’s to blame for his and Emery’s break up and he doesn’t try to cover up what he did. He also knows that some of the things he’s done in the past were beyond stupid and the hostage situation really makes him think back over all of that. I couldn’t help but feel for him and hope that he got a happy ending and was able to make up with Emery and his dad. He’s one of those broken guys that you just want to fix!
The kids were super cute! Each one had a distinct personality and they cracked me up. Beck McDowell captured the innocence of young children and each child will win the heart of every reader out there. The children added a touch of hilarity to an otherwise rather serious book. Of course there were also times when the children were sad and scared but a lot of the time they managed to keep their good humor.
The book is a rather short YA book at only 214 pages and it reads like it’s even shorter. Things really take off from the very beginning and not once does the story slow down. This Is Not a Drill is one of those books that you sit down meaning to read a chapter or two and when you set it down you realize you’ve read the whole thing. It’s impossible to put down and will leave readers thinking.
Overall, This Is Not a Drill is one fabulous contemporary novel that I adored. Beck McDowell has a great debut and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
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