Title: The Testing
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Series: The Testing #1
Genre: Teen Dystopian
Rating: 2.5/5 stars
The Overview: 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.
I had this book lined up next on my reading list until a couple of negative reviews surfaced… and then it got moved to the back-burner. Several months later, Tara, The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say Shhhh! gave it a promising review and included it in her top ten books of 2013 list. As she’s a self-proclaimed dystopian addict and one of my favorite kindred book spirits, I knew I had to give this series a second look. And you know what? I’m really glad I did.
Before I get into it, I need to admit I’m already finished with the second book (Independent Study) and, while I had a couple of issues with The Testing, I loved the second book so much that those issues are nothing but a distant memory. This is a problem because if I had written this review when I was supposed to (i.e., before continuing on in the series) it probably would’ve been a little harsher, but what can I say? My immense enjoyment of the second book has definitely pulled up my opinion of the series as a whole.
In any case, I’ll try and speak to my initial opinion of the first book throughout the rest of this review. Overall, there were several things I liked about it, and a few that I didn’t. First off, I love competitions of any sort, and a bunch of kids gathered together to showcase their mental assets against one another, actively competing for a spot in the University, thrilled me to no end. I love books about people in school, especially the testing sequences (weird I know). Most of this novel focused around the candidates reacting to challenges and problems put forth to them by the testing committee. The creativity and presentation of those tests were by far the best parts of the novel. I found myself hard-pressed to put it down because I was eager to see what problem they would face next and how Cia, the main heroine, would solve it.
I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve been conditioned to expect the worst-case-scenario from Hunger games and the countless other dystopian I’ve read, but I figured out right away that there was something more sinister at play than a mere placement test (as I’m sure most readers will). The problem is, the testing went from plausibly dangerous to ridiculously deadly in the blink of an eye. I’m pretty sure the author was going for shock value, but I found it too clumsy to be really effective. Cia’s reaction to the event emotionally distanced me from it even further. In any case, this is where my rating of the book started to fall and, while excellent testing scenes ensued, it never really gained back my confidence.
That said, I’m actually surprised I picked up a second book at all, but what ever reading god drew me to it, I am immensely grateful. Let’s just say I liked it so much that it’s in contention to be one of my favorite books of the year. I am incredibly eager to get my hands on the third and final book of the trilogy (Graduation Day).
If you are on the fence about this series, I would encourage you to give it a try. There are enough cool elements in the first book to make it worth your while, and who doesn’t love a series that gets better and better with each book?
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