Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Genre: dystopian YA
Length: 325 pages
Where Bethany’s copy came from: The Indianapolis Public Library
Plot Basics: Sixteen year-old Cia Vale is chosen to participate in the Testing, a brutal examination of teenage students selected from all the colonies after the Seven Stages War. If she’s successful, she’ll have an opportunity to go to University. But, right as she leaves, her father warns her about his own Testing experience and gives her the advice to not trust anyone. And maybe he even means fellow candidate Tomas — who had the eye of every girl back home — isn’t really on Cia’s side.
Banter/Bummer Points: When “The Testing” released this summer, Twitter blew up with this book announcement and then again when a movie deal was announced. Joelle’s been a guest of the Word Nerds and was an all-around lovely person at Murder and Mayhem last year. Given the buzz, I snagged an early copy from the Library.
Here’s the deal: “The Testing” is like “The Hunger Games”. A lot like it. Broken United States. Teenage girl chosen to represent her geographic area in a competition with other teenagers that’s fatal for the unsuccessful. Potential romantic interest with fellow players.
But as my mom noted, back in the 1970s, Terry Brooks was criticized for how similar “The Sword of Shannara” was to “Lord of the Rings” and he’s still writing those books, so that comparison has hardly hurt him.
While the plots are similar, I think The Testing trilogy is going to come out ahead in the end. Why? Because the writing and execution of the plot are better and it’s devised to be a trilogy where the Hunger Games has faced a lot of criticism from being one great book (“The Hunger Games”) followed by two increasingly not-so-great books).
Also, the philosophical starting place is different. Where Hunger Games critiques America’s appetite for entertainment, “The Testing” flips the idea of hard work on its head. Cia Vale has always done well in school, but when the best and brightest may get skimmed off and killed, it makes people want to not be noticed (except, maybe they still do want to be noticed.) Cia is also good at mechanics, which is nice because it’s a different skill set for girls that lauded in this series.
Cia is a great character because she believes the best in people, until things are proven otherwise. And maybe not then. She wants cooperation to succeed more than individual pursuits.
Still, multiple times in the book, I did have twingey thoughts of haven’t I read this already?
And then, I thought, I read this whole book in two days, devouring it. Why’s it so bad this similar? When I was a kid I read and reread the same story/kind of story over and over and I didn’t care. Look at the success of serial romance or police procedurals, etc. The guy and girl always get together no matter if he’s a sheik and she’s a kindergarten teacher. The detective usually gets the bad guy, or finds the stolen object or uncovers corruption.
Even in the midst of dystopian fiction, we want things that feel familiar. So while “The Testing” is really “The Hunger Games” meets Scott Westerfeld’s “The Uglies series,” that’s fine. This is the principle why Cia finds it hard to not trust Tomas, because he’s a known quantity and familiar.
It’s hard to put my finger exactly on places where I think the books is better executed than “Hunger Games;” it just is and my bet is that over the whole series that will be evident.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Maybe it’s YA, but anyone who’s ever feared the consequences of a test will get this book. Read it and be glad school was never that hard.