The Testing - Joelle Charbonneau 4 stars

Though this reminded me of both Matched and The Hunger Games, I found it a fast, compelling read.

When I first started reading The Testing back in April, I just couldn’t engage with the plot. I set it aside, thinking that I just wasn’t in the mood for a dystopian adventure. After a few months, I picked it back up, and I’m glad that I did. Though the book is very reminiscent of Matched and The Hunger Games, I found it an engaging read in its own right – it just took me a while to figure that out.

Cia Vale has been accepted for Testing, and if she passes, she’ll be attending classes at the University. This is a dream come true for her, and she has worked hard her entire life to earn a chance to go to the University. She is bewildered and hurt when her father tells her she shouldn’t have been chosen, and she doesn’t believe him when he implies that there is something more sinister than just academic testing going on in the capital, Tosu City. He tells her that he and her old teacher worked hard to ensure that none of the students from their small colony were accepted for The Testing. Though his memories have been wiped of his own Testing experiences, he is plagued by nightmares of the ordeal, and he never wanted his children to suffer through the Test. Cia dismisses his warnings at first, but as she begins her journey to Tosu City, things don’t add up, and she begins to believe her father is correct. She soon realizes that his advice is something that she can no longer ignore. Trust no one.

There are a few things about YA dystopian novels that I have a hard time buying into, and I think it’s because I have read so many now. The first being – what is wrong with all of these adults? The leaders of these bleak societies think nothing of their children murdering each other to get ahead in life. Really? The United Commonwealth has suffered the loss of countless citizens during a horrific period of war and environmental catastrophe, and they are willing to weed out the most cunning and brutal young adults to become the next leaders of the government? Isn’t this part of the reason that the planet was inches away from total destruction? There are 108 students in Cia’s Testing class. 108! Only 20 will be allowed entrance to the University. While we don’t know for certain what happens to the students who survive all four stages of the Test, but aren’t chosen for the Univesity, we do know what countless numbers of them were killed or murdered during the Tests. It’s to the point now that I have to be in the correct frame of mind to enjoy stories that revolve around kids being victimized like this. At least in The Hunger Games the brutality against most of the populace had a purpose, and that was to keep the downtrodden so frightened they would never rebel again. In The Testing, the candidates who survive have their memories of the Tests wiped, so I’m confused about WHY all of these adults sit idly by while their charges slaughter each other. These are the brightest and the best that their society has to offer. I hope it’s explained in the next book, because that was the major stumbling point that kept me from completely enjoying this story.

What’s the second thing that drives me nuts? They talk about food. A lot. More than I do, and I am a big foodie. Reading these survival type stories makes me hungry. Except for the possum. Not so sure I would ever want to eat that.

I did love the in your face narrative. Cia thinks, at first, that it’s a huge honor to vie for a place in the University. She wants to help revitalize the country, which has been decimated by warfare. Like the humans, all life in the Commonwealth teetered on the brink of extinction. Water sources have been polluted and rendered undrinkable, animals have been mutated into scary monsters, and plant life struggled to survive in the poisoned ground. Cia’s dedication to assisting with the healing of the land is one of her defining characteristics, and it’s an easy one to like. It keeps her going, even when everything else has become a nightmare for her. She also resists acting like an animal during the final, deadly stage of The Test. She was raised to see the value in all life, and she has a hard time killing anything. To give her a personal challenge, she is constantly threatened with death, so she must re-evaluate her personal ethics. I loved this about the story, too. Even though she is good and just, she doesn’t hesitate to defend herself or her friends. She doesn’t sit around and wait for some guy to save her, either. Most of the time, she is the one doing the saving. I thought that Cia kicked butt, and I am curious to see what happens in the next book, when she is in, presumably, less harrowing surroundings.

With interesting world-building and a heroine who is not afraid to take charge and control of her own destiny, The Testing is a hard book to put down. I thought that the pacing of the 2nd half of the book was much better than the first, and read most of it in one sitting. I am looking forward to seeing what happens in the next book!

Grade: B