The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau

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Publication date – June 4, 2013

Summary: (Taken from GoodReadsKeep 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.

Thoughts: The setting is a post-apocalyptic world with a limited population, polluted air and ground and water, and a struggle for life and civilization. When Cia is chosen as a potential university candidate and thus must undergo the Testing, she and her family undergo mixed pride and fear. Pride, because university is even more exclusive than it is now, only the best are chosen to even be tested for it, and the education she would receive their would pretty much set her up for life. Fear, because the Testing process is rigorous and whether or not she passes or fails, she will likely never see her family again, as university graduates are never assigned to the same town in which their families live.

But she and a handful of others from her colony are chosen and go off to the capital city of Tosu (I kept getting the feeling that I was supposed to be able to recognize the origin of this name, since all the colony names are based on previous cities or counties in the US, but annoyingly nothing would come to mind), and start the Testing process. Which is quickly revealed to be brutal, as in short order one of the candidates commits suicide from stress.

And that’s just the beginning.

The tagline for this novel says that it’s good for fans of The Hunger Games, and I agree. Mostly because this book is so very like The Hunger Games that you may as well call it The Hunger Games 2.0. The biggest difference is that almost nobody considers getting chosen to be a bad thing. But other than that, it’s incredibly similar. The early training process, the competitiveness, the large chunk of the book dedicated to a survival situation in which the winners barely make it back alive. Right down to Cia’s mentions of almost everything she eats, which mirrored Katniss’s impression of the luxury food items she ate on the way to the Capitol.

Charbonneau’s pacing is good, but her writing lacks distinction. In a very literal sense, I mean; she doesn’t have a written voice that I can pick out from any other writer. It could have been anybody writing this book and I wouldn’t have known better; in fact there were times when I might have been more likely to believe that this book was actually written by Suzanne Collins, wanting to relive the early glory days of the first Hunger Games novel. Her characters are fine, but they too mostly lack distinction. There are a good dozen characters presented to us, and the reason we remember Cia, Tomas, and Will at the end is because we just spent about half the book focusing on them. With few exceptions, none of the other characters are memorable. Zandri was an artist. Gill was Will’s twin. And sadly, I’ve forgotten the name of Cia’s best friend from her colony. Daileen, I think? Yeah, I related to her because she was very shy, the kind of person who sunk into the background if given the chance and who avoided people by nature. I could relate a lot to her. For the brief moment she appeared on the pages, I felt closer to her than anyone else. And wave goodbye, because there she goes.

The problem with this book isn’t that it’s a bad book. The writing’s okay, the story’s okay. The problem is that this is just one more book in a saturated genre, derivative of everything that came before it, bringing nothing new. It seems almost custom-written for people who want to reread The Hunger Games but who want a few different characters names in the story. It has a few interesting plot points, but it gives me nothing I haven’t already experienced, and sadly, that was its major downfall with me. I didn’t go into it expecting to be wowed, but I did expect a book that could hold its own in the genre, and sadly, that wasn’t what I found in The Testing‘s pages.

If you’re a fan of the YA dystopian genre and read all you can get your hands on, then absolutely, read this book. If you closed Mockingjay thinking, “If only there were more books exactly like this series,” then you’re probably going to really enjoy The Testing. But if you’re looking for something new, an interesting twist, a different take on things, then this isn’t the book for you.