Saturday, May 17, 2014

Book Review: The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau

Watch this video to find out what the other Bookish Brits thought of The Testing!

Malencia Vale has dreamed of being selected for The Testing for as long as she can remember. She desperately wants to follow in her father's footsteps, go to the University, and help her world. When Cia is chosen, she wants her parents to be proud., but instead her father tells her about some grisly truths about what the Testing involves. No one is supposed to know what The Testing involves, because all candidates have their memories wiped when the process is over, but he has retained a few snippets of memory, and what he tells Cia chills her to the bone.

There is no escape. Participation is compulsory. So now Cia must go to the city, terrified of what she might encounter, what she will have to do - and the memory wipe that she will go through, if she survives.

I'm not going to lie. The Testing is a lot like The Hunger Games. The opening situation is almost identical - a girl from a minor colony takes part in a ceremony and is selected to go to the big city to compete against others her own age, in order to stay alive.

So honestly, I think this book will be best enjoyed by those who haven't read very many dystopias. I have pretty much only read The Hunger Games trilogy, and that was a couple of years ago, so I read The Testing with somewhat fresh eyes. I expect that readers who have read, say, five Hunger Games-a-likes in the last year will have less patience with The Testing. Not because it's a bad book, but because the ideas and character types and twists that these books rely on will inevitably seem less fresh and exciting, even if the writing is good, when you've seen them multiple times.

And I think the writing is good. The protagonist, Cia, is a sensible, science-minded but not unemotional, enthusiastic young woman who hopes to make her country, which is struggling to rebuild itself following a war that devastated the world, a better place. There is a backstory to the whole situation that we get to see in small doses as Cia completes her exams. The City, and the Testing officials, are much more ambiguous than the Capitol is in The Hunger Games. Cia is not a child being punished for the sins of her ancestors - she is trying to complete a test that the officials believe, or are led to believe, will help them pick out the future rulers and designers of their nation.

I really enjoyed meeting the other characters - family, friends, and Testing candidates. Cia's main romantic interest is a boy from her home colony, Tomas, but we never know how much she should trust him. I have to admit that I wasn't the biggest fan of their romance - I was more intrigued by Will and Stacia, and by Cia's elder brother, who perhaps should have been Tested himself.

The Testing is (of course) the first in a trilogy, and I think that its ending sets the scene for the second book really well. I think it will start to lose its similarities to The Hunger Games from here on out, so I am really looking forward to reading Independent Study.

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