ARC Book Review: The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

Posted May 26, 2013 by Debby in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from Publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

ARC Book Review: The Testing by Joelle CharbonneauThe Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
Series: The Testing #1
Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children on June 4th, 2013
Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close when they may be one in the same?

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career.

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies–trust no one.

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

3.5 Stars

The first words that come to mind having finished this book are: hot damn, what a page turner. To be honest, while I am a big dystopia fan, I was sort of losing my faith in the genre. It’s being inundated with bland stories with bad world building and cheap romance. A lot of the ones I was picking up just lacked that spark. But this book… The Testing is one to look out for guys.

What I think is strongest about this novel is that it really has that chilling dystopian feeling. What I mean by that is that the story is quite dark and bleak at times. People die. Brutally. And observers of these deaths scarcely react, because it’s part of the dystopian society, which screams injustice. That sucks me in. There’s really a feeling that no one is safe and the characters have to fight really hard to survive. (Oh, oh, and trust nobodyyyyyy!)

I really enjoyed the writing and the world building. There was none of that “show, don’t tell” problem here and no info-dumping either. Joelle paints a great picture of the war-torn world and does so with supreme pacing. So often in dystopias I feel like the author takes such a narrow focus on one concept that governs the society and doesn’t spend nearly enough time on how that society came to be. That is not a problem here either. So while a lot of those questions I commonly hold with dystopias are answered, Joelle still leaves the right amount unanswered, which have me craving the sequel.

I really enjoyed the main character, Cia. She was resourceful, smart, generous, albeit a bit naive. I did question at times if it didn’t all come too easy for her (Exhibit A: she picks a gun up for one of the tests and out of freaking nowhere is an expert marksman) but I really enjoyed reading her point of view, especially with how she hypothesized about the motives of the government behind this “Testing”. It was a bit reminiscent of Katniss, but hypothesizing about those motives is usually what draws me to dystopian fiction in the first place.

Tomas was an interesting love interest at first. I loved the first half with him, pretty much. He was this strong, but silent, supportive friend to Cia. But, thrown into the action and the fight to survive, the romance suddenly heated up super quickly. I wished it were a bit more gradual, but by no means is this instalove. (HOORAY!!!) It didn’t overtake the action or mystery of the story either, so that’s a good thing. Tomas himself just got a bit boring in the middle, but the ending definitely added some intrigue to his character, and I can’t wait to read more about him.

I do have some remaining reservations about the concept in and of itself, but I have hope that will be remedied in the sequel. I just find it a bit hard to swallow that a society would seriously pluck up its best and brightest and kill off more than 75% of them (as it is implied). I mean, why? To some extent I understand the harsh punishments that resonate with the consequences of the decisions facing a government’s leaders, as is part of the history of this society, but… why kill them? Even if they’re not good enough to get into the University, they’re still the next tier – there must be something better they can do with those people. *cough* But, seriously, this is the question that Cia is still asking at the end of the novel, and I suppose it’s the question that ultimately the trilogy will seek to answer.

Perhaps the most notable negative thing about this book is that it is quite similar to The Hunger Games. I know, you see this in almost every review of a dystopia: it’s either too much or too little like The Hunger Games, and people will always bitch about it. But hey, it’s a genre defining series, so what can you expect? The thing is, not so much for me, but for others, I can totally imagine the parallels at a certain point become too great. A dystopic society pits teenagers against each other, practically forcing them to fight to the death, endorsing the violence, and there’s a female main character who sees through it all with her supreme analytical skills, who also happens to be a master hunter? Yeah. Check marks to all those points. But though this story thus may have lacked a bit in the originality department, I enjoyed it just the same. I felt there were more than enough points of difference to make up for the points of parity – and I just enjoy a good dystopia.

Summing Up:

This is one of the best dystopias I’ve read lately, and it’s giving me faith in the genre again. Joelle Charbonneau has created a chilling world and an action-packed plot, which really kept me turning the pages. I’m really excited to see where this series will go – it has a ton of potential!

In Three Words:

Recommended To:

Fans of dystopian fiction, even if you may be losing faith a bit!


If you’re interested in The Testing, the publisher is offering the prequel, The Testing Guide, for free here. Give it a shot, and see what you think!

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25 responses to “ARC Book Review: The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

  1. Stormy

    I'll definitely be checking this book out! Your review is the second I've read, and both have been 4 stars, so I think I'd like it. It does sound very similar to The Hunger Games, but hey, I'm OK with that.

  2. I love YA dystopias… when they're well-written! I've felt that lately I've read the best the market has to offer — so many YA dystopias, like you said, don't have that spark and lack good world-building. I've felt disappoint by too many, and there are a ton that compare themselves to The Hunger Games (when in reality they're quite poorly constructed with cheesy romance). I avoided The Testing for that reason, but I'm glad you enjoyed it. After reading you're review, I'll have to give Charbonneau's book a chance!
    My recent post ARC Review: Underneath by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

  3. Yay! Yeah, I think your liking of it is definitely to an extent dependent on if you care that it's similar to The Hunger Games or not, but I really liked it. I hope you do to! 🙂

  4. Oh, awesome! I love that my review can sway some people, haha, but now I hope it'll live up to your expectations. Hope you enjoy it! 🙂

  5. Tory

    I definitely fit the bill in your "recommended to", haha, I love dystopian fiction almost too much! 😛
    I've seen quite a bit of reviews of The Testing and was still sitting on the fence about getting it… but I guess I'll really have to keep an eye out for it now! 😉
    My recent post Of Poseidon

  6. Brittany S

    I just reviewed this one recently and it looks like we hit a lot of the same points!! It was definitely exciting and I loved the action. Cia was a great main character for me and I really liked her analytical side but she's still compassionate as well!
    Yep, yep. I just couldn't get The Hunger Games out of my mind! It really is such a genre-defining series like you said though and I kind of expected it, but wished it could have been a tiiiiny bit more original. *shrugs* It was still really enjoyable and the ending! I was so glad it happened that way. Definitely has me itching for book two.
    My recent post Chantress (Chantress Trilogy #1) – Amy Butler Greenfield

  7. Haha, sorry! xD I hope you still enjoy the others just the same. But yeah, The Testing EEP I hope you like it because I really enjoyed it.

  8. Really? No one I know has actually reviewed it, haha. And I looked through Goodreads and it looked mostly positive. Except for those THG comparisons. I think that's the biggest issue with this book. But I enjoyed it all the same 🙂 I hope you do to!

  9. Aww, yay! I'm a huge dystopia fan myself, but after some iffy ones this year (i.e. Dualed, Taken) I wasn't sure how I was still feeling about this genre. But yeah, this one was really exciting and enjoyable. If you check it out, I hope you like it!

  10. I think it's unavoidable that every dystopia I pick up will be compared to the Hunger Games, but I managed to ignore it for the most part here. I think it will go in a totally different direction in the sequel anyway, so I'm really looking forward to that! Having said that, the lack of originality is the main reason why this got 4 oranges from me and not more. The ending was awesome!!! I'm definitely excited for more. Glad you enjoyed it as well 🙂

  11. Exactly! After the HORROR of Ink, when I saw this wasn't instalove, I had a serious urge to jump up and down and cheer.

    I knowww, after I read Dualed and Taken this year I was just so dismayed with this whole genre… but I really enjoyed this one. If you check it out, I hope you like it!

  12. I am so glad I have not read The Hunger Games. It would annoy me to see similar dystopians after it. Even the cover looks unoriginal. However, this book sounds like it was a great dystopian! It is not often I read a review capable of restoring faith in a battered genre. What I love most about The Testing from your review, is its 'chilling dystopian feeling'. Yes, worldbuilding is a big hunk, but an accommodating atmosphere accentuates it! So glad the relationship was not instalove as well!
    My recent post Armchair BEA, Day 2: Blogger Development + Genre Fiction

  13. Awww man, you haven't read The Hunger Games? I guess that does help level the expectations of other dystopias, but it's such a great series…. 🙁 YES dystopias need to scare the crap out of you, or you're not really doing it right. At least, that's what I think. 🙂

  14. dragana5kovic

    I loved this book too.
    I am not sure that candidates that fail the testing are killed. It is implied and our heroes believe so at the moment, but as you said it does not have much sense. My hunch is that they are probably stuck somewhere working, maybe with memories wiped too. After all those who pass the testing also do not come home. That would be better and more chilling solution to me, but we will see. Nothing is for certain yet. 😉

  15. Well, even if the ones that don't pass evaluations and stuff aren't killed, there's still so many that are killed during the actual tests. So I think it still would bother me. I dunno, I'll just have to wait for the sequel and see what the motivation behind it is. Glad you like it too though!

  16. I received an ARC of this and I am a hesitant to start it because of it being said to be so much like the Hunger Games. However, I think I will start in soon after reading your review because it does sound pretty cool! And I want to know more about Tomas 😉

  17. I think if you can get over the similarities, you'll find it's a great story all the same. I hope you'll enjoy it! 🙂

  18. Yeah, I was invited to read this by NetGalley and otherwise probably wouldn't have picked it up. Not so early anyway. I hope you enjoy it if you get to it 🙂

  19. I think I will read this next. I got approved for it on Netgalley but only had a day to read it before it archived since there was no Send to Kindle option for it 🙁 But at least I can read it now!!