My experience with Please Remain Calm can best be described with a food analogy. Imagine that you’ve been invited to a friend’s house for dinner, a friend who just so happens to be a pastry chef. You’re super excited for the dessert at the end of the meal, because you’ve eaten your friend’s food before and know it’s amazing. Dinner finishes up, and your friend brings out dessert, and it’s…frozen yogurt.
It’s not that frozen yogurt isn’t tasty; it’s just not the triple chocolate layer cake you were anticipating. Similarly, Please Remain Calm is a perfectly acceptable story, but it isn’t another This Is Not A Test. And that left me pretty disappointed.
Here are a few of the key ways that Please Remain Calm differs from its prequel:
1) It’s a novella. Please Remain Calm is much shorter than This Is Not a Test, less than a third of the length. It’s like a teaser, just enough to take the edge off of the This Is Not a Test withdrawal. For this reason it makes me wonder whether Summers always intended to write this novella, or if Please Remain Calm is simply her attempt to appease all the readers who were clamoring for a sequel.
2) It’s narrated by Rhys, not Sloane. This is actually a positive difference. Although Sloane is a unique narrator and offers a chilling and fascinating lens through which to view the apocalypse, I was happy to get inside Rhys’ head. He was my favorite character in This Is Not A Test – I totally have the hots for him – so I liked seeing things from his point of view this time around.
3) There’s no “Breakfast Club from Hell” group. One of the things I loved about This Is Not A Test was that it took six extraordinarily different teenagers, from different home lives and social classes, and trapped them in an abandoned high school together for weeks. The teens had to figure out not only how to survive the zombies, but also how to interact with one another when they had almost nothing in common. I missed this element in Please Remain Calm. Rhys does have some interactions with a married couple and their little girl in the book, but the dynamic is totally different without the teenage hormones, jealousy, panic, etc. all thrown together in the pressure cooker of the high school.
4) There’s a lot more direct contact with zombies. And it’s gross. In This Is Not A Test, the zombies were a constant presence, but they were outside of the school, clamoring to get in. They featured mostly as part of the book’s atmosphere, a heard but unseen threat. In Please Remain Calm, though, the zombies are larger-than-life, in your face, everywhere you turn. You can’t escape them. You can’t even stop for a pee break without fearing for your life. And the numerous zombie scenes aren’t just scary, they’re disgustingly descriptive. I had nightmares, and that’s not an exaggeration.
“Once you know the sounds of teeth tearing into human flesh, the wet, sloppy noise of skin and organs rolling around an infected’s mouth, of fingers with the kind of hunger driving them enough to make it possible to rip a belly open and pull all its insides out, you don’t forget it.”
Hard-core zombie fans may enjoy Please Remain Calm more than I did, but part of me wishes I never read it at all. I wanted a repeat of This Is Not A Test, and I was very much let down. I’ll probably still read the next book, if there is one – there’s a bit of a cliffhanger ending that makes me think another story will be forthcoming – but I’ll go into that reading experience with more realistic expectations.