The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

The Testing(Description nicked from B&

“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.”

Okay, let’s get this out of the way immediately: yes, this series bears a lot of similarities to The Hunger Games. There’s the post-apocalyptic setting, a government with shady motivations, a girl chosen to represent her community, a potentially lethal competition—it’s impossible not to compare it to Suzanne Collins’s series. Because of this, I was expecting to find The Testing to be derivative and boring. Boy, was I wrong.

In some ways, I think this book has more suspense than The Hunger Games. There, we know that everyone will die (or, almost everyone); here, there is no guaranteed mortality rate. Readers know that there’s danger inherent in the challenges that the characters face, but barring the main character, you really don’t know who will survive and who won’t. Also, the tests that Cia and the others face are more than just physical challenges. There’s as much that has to do with intellect and deductive reasoning as there is straightforward strength. The fact that the mental tests can be just as destructive as anything else just adds to the tension.

The fact that the characters aren’t forced to kill each other also leads to an interesting dilemma; namely, do you choose to injure or kill before someone does the same to you, or do you try to maintain some semblance of civilized behavior? Giving the kids this choice means that you don’t always know what someone’s motivation is and what they will do to succeed. Those uncertainties had this book holding my attention.

Cia is a realistic main character, not going too far into either the helpless little girl stereotype nor into the unstoppable powerhouse stereotype. She gets frightened and frustrated, she makes mistakes, and she has moments of inspiration. Much like Katniss, she’s a good role model for teens to be reading about. The other characters were pretty well fleshed-out too, although my interest in them was, admittedly, in seeing who survived and who turned out to be a villain.

In the end, a situation that you think Cia will avoid ends up happening, but then there’s a twist that undoes it. It leaves the book on something of a cliffhanger, although Cia isn’t in peril when it happens. It definitely made me eager to find out how she handles the information that comes her way and to see how the plot progresses in the next book.

Although I was initially skeptical of this novel, The Testing turned out to be a story that I devoured. While some may be put off by its similarities to The Hunger Games, I would urge you to give this one a try. It has plenty of its own originality to offer and delivers a tension-filled tale of competition and moral choices that is really enjoyable.

Also by this author: Independent Study

Series: The Testing
ISBN: 9780547959108
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Page Count: 352
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Acquired: Provided by the publisher as an e-ARC through NetGalley
Author Website
Read an excerpt