Friday, October 4, 2013

The Testing - Joelle Charbonneau

Title: The Testing
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 344 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction
Started: October 2, 2013
Finished: October 4, 2013

From the inside cover:

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 honoured 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.

Surely though, 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 gruelling (and deadly) day of The Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

There was a lot of hype surrounding this release, plus the synopsis sounded like my exam nightmares from high school multiplied by a hundred, so I picked it up.

After reading the whole thing in two sittings over two days, I can sum up The Testing as, "The Hunger Games, the academic version."

Malencia (Cia) Vale lives in the Five Lakes Colony (formerly the Great Lakes area) in a post-apocalyptic North America ravaged by natural disasters, nuclear war, and political conflict. The people responsible for government, education, and genetically engineering new food crops to grow in the harsh climate are hand-picked from each of the colonies and put through a rigorous testing procedure that tests their academic skills, hands-on abilities, survival skills, and how far they're willing to go to secure a spot at the University. Cia's father was a University graduate who is haunted by his experience (yet can't actually remember it) who warns his daughter not to trust anyone. But like any good game involving others, Cia can't make it totally on her own and must rely on someone, the question is will her trust be rewarded?

There are a lot of similarities between The Testing and The Hunger Games, so much to the point where some readers are immediately turned off by it. Though I do agree there are very obvious similarities, I personally enjoyed the unique aspects of The Testing, mainly the aspect of an academic Battle Royale scenario (though it does get very Hunger Games-esque from the mid-point on with the survival test). I liked Cia as a character: she's the youngest of all the candidates but isn't overly naive or innocent, she's intelligent and very observant, plus she more or less maintains her humanity throughout the whole experience.

Cia answers questions on a history exam in order to fill readers in on the background information for the book's universe. I appreciated that the author used this method to address world-building, it wasn't forced and fit naturally into the plot.

The romance aspect wasn't amazing by any means which was a little disappointing. There isn't a lot of background on Tomas and Cia growing up, you just know they went to school together, there's no real flashbacks or memories related to their relationship to build upon, so the whole "OMG I love you so much" comes on a little fast, but understandable given the traumatic experiences they go through together. Granted this scenario is similar in The Hunger Games, but I think it did a better job of making the romance believable plus included flashbacks from childhood to add to the relationship building.

Unlike The Hunger Games where a lot of the killing occurs mainly in the background and when it is upfront it's usually done in self-defence, the killing that occurs in The Testing is very much obvious (as narrated by Cia to her horror), and either done very much on purpose by other candidates or allowed by the Testing authorities. But like The Hunger Games, the violence isn't glorified, and the consequences are shown (the witnesses are forever traumatized by it, established that the victims had families etc.).

I quite enjoyed this, so I'll be picking up the sequels (this is the first book of a trilogy), but I urge you to give it a read and see for yourself.

Similar to The Hunger Games overall but with enough differences in plot and details that it can be enjoyable depending on the reader. The violence is more extreme (though not glorified), so you'll want to have a discussion with more sensitive readers. I definitely think this is definitely for older readers (high school age and up) due to the increased violence, so I wouldn't give it to grade 7s or 8s like I would The Hunger Games.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the shimmery blue colour combined with the silver of Cia's testing symbol, it's a very pleasing cover aesthetically.

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