Review: This Is Not A Drill

This Is Not A Drill by Beck McDowell

This Is Not A Drill by Beck McDowell

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.

(Description from Goodreads)

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This was definitely an interesting read. Considering recent events in Connecticut, it is rather ironic that this was the next book on my list to read and review. Any other time I would have just viewed this as just another YA novel, but because of the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school, this wasn’t just another book to read. On top of all of that, there was actually a scare at the local elementary school in my town where my own mother works, putting me into more a paranoid state than I usually am in. But, I digress from non-review related stories.

This Is Not A Drill focuses on a rather dark and heavy subject: a school shooting. Like the description says, Emery and Jake tell the happenings through alternating viewpoints of what unfolds when a father of a student holds up a first grade classroom, brandishing a gun in the process. Of course, on top of that, there are quite a few difficulties that are addressed throughout the several hours that this story takes place.

Jake and Emery used to date, which takes place before the story does. However, due to some indecent events on Jake’s part, the two are no longer together, but must work together as they volunteer in the same first grade classroom at the local elementary school. They only spend a few hours in the classroom several days a week, but on this specific day, they spend much more time there than is needed. I really liked the characters in this book, especially Jake, Emery, and the children. There were plenty of other characters, but these stood out the most (even more so than the shooter, Stutts.) Of course, Jake and Emery are the main characters, so they will obviously stand out the most. But the first graders in the classroom that is held up really stand up. Again, with the recent events, all I could think about is what goes through the minds of little kids when faced with a dangerous situation. As depicted in the book, it seemed like the children understood there was danger present, but when given distractions they are able to briefly forget the events. While I don’t know if this is actually what would go through a young child’s mind, it was a rather realistic possibility.

No one wants to think about a shooting, especially a school shooting or even worse, one that takes place at an elementary school. The story was gripping and profound. Along with the whole classroom being held up part, there were little side stories that went on, mostly they took place in the past. Jake and Emery’s relationship story is explained in bits and pieces while they try to deal with the happenings in the classroom, mostly when they are on their own to care for the children in the class. Stutts’s story of what lead up to him developing PTSD is also discussed, surprisingly by him when Emery tries to talk to him like he really is just an every day person.

That’s another part about the story that I found compelling…the fact that Stutts may have been completely off his rocker for brandishing a firearm in a school, but he was also a regular person who was fighting his own demons despite that. Through Emery trying to get the upset father to open up about his life and several of the students in the classroom trying to include the man and his son in activities that take place in the classroom (during the holdup), the reader starts to see that even though Stutts is known to the outside world as a crazed shooter, he is still a person who has reasons for doing what he does, even if they make sense to no one but himself. Now, I’m not saying what he did was the right thing to do, especially considering recent events (shootings are horrible in general, but really…who holds up an elementary school?), but through the other characters showing tenderness toward the crazed man, it shows him as a real person too.

Of course, this book would have received a higher rating if there were some things changed about it. Even though it appeared like the story was in a constant state of being on the edge of the seat worthy, there were actually quite a few moments when nothing eventful happened. Instead, during those times, the book would focus on the relationship between Emery and Jake. This only added to the tension between Emery and Jake while they were in the classroom with the children. In my opinion, the story could have used a little less of their rocky relationship and more of the actual danger that was present.

Another problem I had with the story was that the police hardly did anything. Now, I know they have to be careful when dealing with someone that is armed and dangerous, but in the story they didn’t even try to find ways into the classroom. A window, an air vent, crawling on their stomachs to the classroom, anything would have been better than just waiting at the office of the school. Perhaps that’s just because I don’t know the protocol of what help is supposed to do in those situations, but I would figure it would be more than what actually went down in the book.

After recent events, this book was definitely a rather heavy subject to read about. Kind of weird that the book took place in a first grade class and on a Friday, much like the horrible shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. However, the story was still good and was a rather quick and profound read. It definitely leaves you thinking just what would you do in the situation…

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