Review: This Is Not A Drill by Beck McDowell

Title: This Is Not A Drill

Author: Beck McDowell

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Release Date: October 25th, 2012

Interest: Debut Author / Realistic Fiction / Blog Tour

Source: ARC received from the author for blog tour

Summary (From Goodreads):

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.

What I Liked:

  • The suspense and characters.  Emery and Jake are developed well enough to distinguish who is speaking when.  The different font and the names at the beginning of the chapters helps, but the characters voices are developed enough to know the difference.
  • Reading from both Emery and Jake’s point of view keeps This Is Not A Drill gender neutral, which I always love.
  • The fast pace.  Despite the circumstances, the situation doesn’t take up that much actual time, so the quick pace really fits the plot.  The action gets started soon after the book starts which will capture and hold my students’ attention.
  • Brian Stutts’ background.  Learning his background adds a layer of understanding when, as the reader, you don’t want to understand him and feel bad for him.  He’s expected to be this evil person when really he’s suffering.  It’s hard to look at Stutts as a suffering, wounded character.

What I Disliked:

  • The background romance between Emery and Jake.  It took away from the suspense of the shooting and didn’t feel like it added any important depth to the story.  I know the characters better now, which I always appreciate in a story, but I don’t know if it was really necessary.  I found myself skimming those parts.  It just didn’t work for me as a reader.
  • The length. It’s unusual for me to criticize a book for not being long enough, but I think This Is Not A Drill would be an even stronger book if it was a little bit longer.  After all the suspense and build up, the ending felt rushed.

Overall, I think my students will enjoy Beck McDowell’s debut.  Despite not caring for the romance between Jake and Emery, I think my students will enjoy it.  They always want to know more about the characters, so I know they’ll appreciate it.  This is definitely a great book to add to your library/classroom and hand off to your students, especially your reluctant readers.


  1. For a moment there I thought this book was the sequel to “this is not a test!” 🙂

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