by Joelle Charbonneau
To be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
on June 2, 2013
Source: e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley. Please see my full FTC disclosure on right sidebar.
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Summary (from Goodreads:) 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.
My take: I'm suffering from a full-blown case of dystopian fatigue. As a result, I approach new books in this genre with the hope that they will offer up some kind of a fresh spin on things. The Testing didn't meet that test for me. Still, if you feel the way about dystopian fiction that I feel about contemporary/realistic YA -- namely, that you're a tireless and devoted reader of the genre -- I think you'll enjoy this book.
The Testing opens with Cia, the main character, getting all dressed up for a big ceremony. All the residents of her colony are gathering in the town square to find out which of Cia's classmates will be chosen for the Testing, a chance to compete to attend their country's University.
Cia wasn't the kind of character who had me rooting for her. To me, she came off as calm and detached. I tend to connect more with characters who show either greater vulnerability or more of an snarky edge. Or both. Cia wasn't a bad narrator, she just struck me as bland.
Of course, Cia is chosen to be tested. She and three of her classmates are taken to Tosu City to undergo a series of tests. They're assigned a mentor. They meet their competitors. Then -- and I have to admire the gutsiness of this storytelling move -- for the first round of competition they actually take tests. They sit at desks and take tests with paper with pencils. (For teen readers who are in full exam panic mode, this scenario might actually elicit a cold sweat.) Fortunately, in subsequent rounds, the candidates get to do other stuff. Like test plants and soil. And then - finally - get down to the real-world leadership and decision-making tests.When the testing moves into its final stages, the book shifts to survival in the wilderness sort of stuff. Just like in the Hunger Games, Cia will have to battle injury and the elements and decide which of her competitors she can trust. This was definitely the strongest part of the book.
As in other dystopian books which feature plots that put groups of kids in deadly competition with one another, that part of the premise didn't entirely hold together for me. In the Hunger Games, the Reaping served as a cruel means by which the government punishes and controls its citizens. In this book, it didn't really add up. Yes, I understand that the United Commonwealth wants their best and the brightest to attend the university, but what is the logic behind such callous disregard for the almost-best-and-brightest, many of whom seem to end up dead?
Will you be surprised if I tell you there are two guys Cia finds herself drawn to, one of whom may not be trustworthy? However, as Cia learns in the beginning of the book, her memory will be erased if she survives the testing, so even if she figures out which guy she likes, she's not going to remember.
Here's a little test for you to take: are you dying for new dystopian books to read? Does the idea of a group of kids pitted against one another still makes your heart beat a little faster? Then you should definitely put The Testing on your to-read list.
How are you feeling about dystopian fiction? Are you still loving it?