Book Review: The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

01-24-14-testingI have got to get better about writing these book reviews.  It’s nearing the end of January, and so far I’ve read 6 new young adult novels that were just excellent.  My favorite thus far has easily been this one – Joelle Charbonneau’s The Testing.

This novel offers an interesting look at our future here in the United States.  Like all dystopians, there is a backdrop of war.  Here, you find out about the destruction of the world as protagonist Cia answers essay questions on exams – there’s something called the “Seven Stages of War” in this dystopian backstory, in which the first four stages are created by man (nuclear and biological warfare) and the final three are nature rebelling (massive earthquakes, tornadoes, tidal waves, etc).  There are several colonies throughout the US, ruled by officials at Tosu City.  The city also has the honor of holding the one university that graduates the leaders of the colonies – government officials, scientists and engineers, teachers and doctors.  Spots in the university are much coveted amongst the students in the colonies.

Cia very desperately wants to attend the university, and is selected for “The Testing” – the arduous practice in which top students from the colonies compete to earn spots in the freshman class.  However, her hopes for the future are dashed when her father – a brilliant bioengineer responisble for genetically altering crops and ending starvation – tells her of terrible dreams and glimpses of memories he has of his time there. Apparently, he and other leaders in Cia’s colony have conspired to keep their children safe and out of the university because they believe that something sinister happens behind the scenes.  After the testing, we learn, all memories of the process are erased so students can start forward with clean slates.  Cia’s father believes his nightmares are fragments of his memory of that time.

Predictably, Cia is selected for the testing, along with three others from her colony.  One of them is love interest Tomas, and one of the things I enjoyed the most about this novel is how natural their relationship seemed.  You could tell Cia and Tomas were genuinely friends, and they work well together throughout the novel.  There is a mutual respect between them, and other than some kisses this novel is tastefully PG.  That’s somewhat refreshing after all of the sexual angst you see in many teen series *coughtwilightcough*.  There is also no – I REPEAT, NO – love triangle.  Awesome, huh?!

Throughout the course of the novel, Cia and Tomas undergo very rigorous and stressful tests.  As Cia learns, the testing is constant – there’s not just written and practical exams, she’s also observed through cameras and scored on how she responds to stimuli in her environment.  The pressure is intense… failure is not an option because it results in disappearance or death.

There are some breathtaking betrayals in this novel, and some awful-yet-believable portrayals of humanity at its worse.  It’s fast-paced and always exciting, and I immediately dived straight into the second novel (Independent Study).

You know I also love a good dystopian that incorporates a solid amount of science.  I very much enjoyed when Cia worked through problems in her head – figuring out bioengineering or how to fix a machine, or testing and purifying water of contaminants.   And let’s face it, the fact that the female protagonist is an ace at math and science is pretty thrilling, too.

If you enjoy dystopians, or books with strong female characters, you should definitely read this!  It will keep you on the edge of your seat, and when it’s through you’ll plow straight into the second book for more.  I’ll let you know how that one is soon!

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