Book Review: The Testing (Book #1) by Joelle Charbonneau

Title: The Testing
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Series: The Testing Trilogy
Genre: YA Dystopia
Page Count: 355 pages
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: June 4, 2013

Publisher’s Summary: It’s graduation day for sixteen-year-old Malencia Vale, and the entire Five Lakes Colony (the former Great Lakes) is celebrating. All Cia can think about—hope for—is whether she’ll be chosen for The Testing, a United Commonwealth program that selects the best and brightest new graduates to become possible leaders of the slowly revitalizing post-war civilization. When Cia is chosen, her father finally tells her about his own nightmarish half-memories of The Testing. Armed with his dire warnings (“Cia, trust no one”), she bravely heads off to Tosu City, far away from friends and family, perhaps forever. Danger, romance—and sheer terror—await.

My Thoughts: I downloaded this book when Amazon recommended it because: 1) I liked the cover; 2) it takes place in the Great Lakes region (where I currently live); and 3) the opening reminded me of Matched and Brave New Girl, along with other great YA dystopia I’ve consumed over the last decade. The first act opened very strongly and didn’t disappoint. We care about Cia right off the bat because we know she’s smart and deserves her big break, yet she’s thrust into a secret, unfair, cutthroat testing ritual where the penalty for answering a single question incorrectly is death.

I would’ve liked to learn more about why the society was structured to kill off their smartest and most promising citizens. Perhaps the subsequent books will reveal the answer. I also would’ve liked the second act’s sequences to build off of one another, rather than feeling like a linear journey (with some deadly interruptions) back to the starting point. The fight-for-survival-in-Chicago was a little too reminiscent of Divergent (which I quit reading halfway through, because that was too reminiscent of The Hunger Games). By the end, the story is not complete and neither is Cia’s arc.

Of course, it wouldn’t be YA dystopia without romance. Although, I was surprised there was no triangle. I didn’t quite feel Cia and Tomas’s shared past; it was told rather than shown. I wasn’t sure what was appealing about Tomas other than physical attractiveness. I was much more intrigued by a side character called Michal, who worked for the United Commonwealth, but that might’ve just been me being weird. Michal was fascinating because you could tell he was full of secrets. There was something shifty about him and you couldn’t tell whether he was secretly good and with the resistance or secretly evil, but that’s what made him so fascinating. I was begging for Cia to fall for him instead — they actually had chemistry, whether intended or not. Alas, we don’t see much of him later in the book.

There were many elements of this book that reminded me of Brave New Girl, Delirium, Matched, Divergent, and The Breakout. Fans of those titles and everything YA dystopia might as well pick this one up too. But be forewarned: the story is not whole on its own, and seems it will rely on the rest of the trilogy to answer all the interesting questions it poses.

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