ARC Review: Joelle Charbonneau – The Testing

Joelle_Charboneau-TheTestingTitle: The Testing
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Series: The Testing #1
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Rating: 4 / 5
Release Date: 4 June 2013

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.

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Prior to reading this book, my entire thought process was, please don’t let this be another The Hunger Games. Or Divergent. Not because I don’t like either one of them (because I totally do). More because the basic plotline is getting a little tired.

After reading, I thought, OMG.

And that’s about it. While there are similar elements to both HG and Divergent, The Testing manages to stand amongst those giants of the YA world on its own. It’s just different enough to give us something new, while still sticking to the formulaic dystopian/post-apocalyptic standards we all know and love.

I found Cia to be a little boring as narrators go. Not that she’s unlikable or anything of the sort–she just really seemed to have no personality. I did, however, like that she tended to think about things instead of rushing into things head-long. And I liked that she had an attachment to her family, but not one that was so all-encompassing as to be debilitating or to detract from her ability to succeed in the Testing. Cia, for me, was both good and bad as narrators go (bad because she’s a little boring and seems to have no opinion of her own, but I go into the good bits down below).

Parts of The Testing calls to mind The Hunger Games, in that it is survival of the fittest, but what “fittest” entails is a little different. There are tests of intelligence and instinct before we even get to the final test, and even then it isn’t a “one left standing” kind of deal. Of course, there’s also the idea that refusing to attend the Testing is an act of treason, and we all know what that means.

The most horrifying bit, for me, was the end. We’re told early on, once Cia is selected for the Testing, that she will have her memory wiped after everything is over, and she won’t remember anything, or at least not very much, of what happened while she was there. Cia learns some horrifying news about Tomas, and then poof! she doesn’t remember any longer. She is ecstatic when she sees him again, once the Testing is completed.

The only bit that disappointed me was the love triangle. It seems to be a YA staple nowadays, and it’s really getting old hat. I haven’t seen an author yet that can build a successful triangle that seems necessary to the plot. Of course, this is only book one of a trilogy, so maybe the triangle will hold some significance in the next book. However, Cia’s relationship with Tomas is slightly unbelievable, mostly because Cia never seems to be emotionally invested in anything–it’s as if she’s simply going through the motions of a relationship, saying things that need to be said/heard, simply because that’s what she thinks she should do. Her emotions, especially in relation to Tomas, are told to us, either through narration or dialogue, but I had a hard time buying it because sometimes what she does isn’t what she’s saying (it all goes back to “show, don’t tell” for me).

The pacing of the story is well-done. The story never slows too much or speeds too quickly. Things happen, you, as a reader, are given time to digest the information, then it moves on to the next thing. Cia as a narrator is a good choice, as she is not so emotionally invested in anyone that she becomes unreliable, and we also, as readers, are able to experience her journey along with her–she never tells us how to feel. Charbonneau seems to be allowing us to decide how we feel about Cia’s situation and experiences, and I really think this is quite brilliant.

Overall I thought The Testing was a brilliant read. I very much look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

I received an early copy of this book from the publisher via netgalley in exchange for a fair review. All opinions herein are mine and were not influenced by the publisher or author in any way.

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