Series: The Testing #1
Published by Templar on August 1st 2013 (First Published June 4th)
Sixteen-year-old Cia Vale is honoured to be chosen for The Testing - a series of exams set by the United Commonwealth that selects the brightest young adults to become leaders of their war -stricken world. But when candidates start disappearing and Cia witnesses unimaginable horrors done in the United Commonwealth’s name it becomes clear that these are no ordinary exams, and Cia is forced to realise the truth: this is no longer about winning, but surviving.
I was equal parts excited and apprehensive when settling down to read THE TESTING. I do love a good dystopian but have found pickings to be decidedly lacking lately. The comparisons to THE HUNGER GAMES made me wary but nonetheless I was enthusiastic to see what approach Joelle Charbonneau would take and I wasn’t disappointed. From the beginning I was immediately drawn into Cia’s world and hooked on the compelling story.
Cia is sixteen and graduating high school. She lives in a colony with her parents and brothers that is leading the research in agriculture for the United Commonwealth, a collection of cities and towns made up of the former United States after the Seven Stages War. Cia is eager to escape her potential future growing different strains of potato and vegetables and hopes along with her classmates to be selected for The Testing. The lucky students will get to advance their education and become the future leaders of their country. Is The Testing and The University the pathway to a gilded future or is it the beginning of a nightmare?
Let’s address the obvious first. There is many similarities to The Hunger Games in terms of world building and the set-up of The Testing but it’s fair to say the same can be said for any dystopian these days with a female lead and a broken world. I do think it’s unfair to dismiss The Testing because of this, after all THG bears a lot of similarities with Battle Royale…every idea is a new version of an old one so I’m glad I didn’t let this get in the way of my enjoyment.
I really like Cia. She’s kind, intelligent, compassionate and brave. Always looking out for her friends and fellow students even when they didn’t always return the favour. Her relationship with her parents was interesting and I enjoyed the development, particularly after revelations shared by her father about his own experience with The Testing and her family’s fears for their beloved only girl. When Cia is selected along with her childhood friend Tomas and sent to the Testing centre we get glimpses of the more insidious darker side to the process of selecting the next best and brightest.
The theme of Trust No One is prevalent from the moment Cia enters the centre and it was truly disturbing to watch the lengths some of the students went to in order to eliminate the competition. There were several Oh My GOD moments particularly during the first phase of testing when the brutality and stone cold attitudes of the Testing committee was revealed and the pressures of winning and more importantly failing became too much. It did strike me as a little strange that in a war-torn society the government would want to see some of its brightest students injured, mutilated and even killed off so I’m hoping that some light is shed on that reasoning later in the series.
I enjoyed the development of the relationship between Cia and Tomas. Happily Cia wasn’t the type of girl to automatically fall for a boy and dismiss her own feelings and thoughts in favour of his. Their friendship slowly deepened in intensity turning to a sweet romance gradually as Tomas and Cia fight for survival from the testers, fellow students and those they believed were friends.
The second phase of the Testing takes place in the barren wasteland outside the society and while compelling it was standard dystopian fare, mysterious people hiding in the shadows, mutated animals, booby traps but the pace and action was kept intense and I was captivated throughout.
As the book races to a stunning climax we see just how power and ambition can corrupt. It’s clear from the last third that answers we’re longing for won’t be offered in this book but the last few chapters make sure that you not only don’t mind that there’s a book two, you’re aching to see what happens next.
The Testing is heart-pounding, captivating fare with a kick ass heroine you can’t help but root for! Roll on Independent Study!