The National Examiner
'This is Not a Drill' by Beck McDowell: A day held hostage
In "This is Not a Drill" by Beck McDowell, readers are allowed into the minds of two high school students who are volunteering in a classroom when a crazed parent with a gun holds the young students, the high school students and the teacher hostage.
The whole book takes place during the hostage situation, but is ably fleshed out with flashbacks that tell the back story. Emery and Jake, who previously had been a couple, are the two students who are volunteering to teach French to the young students. The story is told in first person narrative from their alternating viewpoints.
We sympathize with both main characters. Readers will be able to connect with their situations. Both have fractured families. Emery's mother is high-strung and controlling and doesn't want Emery to have any contact with the ex-husband. Jake's mother died and he is trying to deal with a stepmother who is closer to "wicked witch" than loving mother.
It also doesn't help that Jake's best friend got them both arrested for possession of pot (it was his friend's) which embarrassed Jake's father, the mayor. Of the two teens, Jake is the one who feels that he must do the right thing. He recounts how he is the one responsible for the break-up with Emery. He got tipsy and accepted the advances of a girl during a party when Emery wasn't there. Although he sent her a letter apologizing and asking for forgiveness, she hasn't changed her attitude towards him. Pairing with her to teach French was a way he hoped to get back in her good graces.
The book also offers readers an opportunity to look at what war does to those fighting in it. The father who is holding everyone hostage is a combat soldier suffering from what he and his fellow soldiers endured while at war. In one chapter he talks about one of the horrors he can't forget, and the reader won't be able to forget it either.
And that's probably what makes the book so good to read -- the author's wonderful use of descriptive language. The dialogue is authentic, the characters well portrayed, the flashbacks fascinating and the plot thrilling. Great for reluctant readers and non-stop readers alike.