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.The 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
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.
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.