July 8, 2014

The Testing: A Panoramic Review

"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." (from Goodreads)

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

My reaction:
I felt very mixed about this book. I thought the structure of the society, in particular the emphasis on academics, was interesting, and the tests quite logical in how they weeded out competitors. However, the protagonist came off very Mary Sue-ish, the middle chunk of the book plodded, and the romance fell completely flat for me. 

Best aspect: I have to give the author credit for the unexpected twists and turns. Perhaps I'm out of practice in reading dystopian novels, but there was quite a bit that I didn't see coming. Spoilers: Like Roman tricking the rest of his group, Will being the guy with the crossbow, the bracelets being miked... 

I also appreciated that the dystopian society didn't roll over and play dead to a bunch of teens. The society is firmly in control, their actions clearly demonstrating that they have the upper hand. In some dystopian YA books the society seems to be undermined very easily by a handful of teenagers — Delirium, I'm looking at you — so I'm glad that wasn't the case here. Although there is one plot point I thought was a bit of a slip-up on the society's part (spoilers): they left Cia with an audio recorder! Did they just not realize what it was? Or was this thanks to a rebel member on the inside?
If I could change something... I'd give Cia more flaws. For the first two-thirds or so of the book, Cia is obnoxiously good at everything. She knows about fixing things mechanically. She knows what plants are and are not poisonous. She knows about biological engineering and genetics. She's good at surviving. She can shoot a gun. She makes friends. She's morally upstanding and rule-abiding. To put it bluntly: she's not, like so many YA "heroines," TSTL – too stupid to live. Oh, no. She's TSTBB – too smart to be believable. 

Thankfully, in the later part of the book, this is remedied somewhat. Spoilers, highlight to read: she's shown to be too naive and trusting, blinded by her infatuation for Tomas and her general expectation that the society will play by the rules. Also, she stupidly does not try to get one of the pills from Tomas before she gets her results...not so smart after all, eh, Cia??

I would also completely re-do the romance or take it out entirely. I didn't feel any chemistry or spark between Tomas and Cia, and Tomas struck me as basically a deadweight getting a free ride with Cia by charming her. Spoilers: the scene where she drags Tomas across the finish line nicely symbolizes their entire relationship.

If you haven't read it: and you're looking for a book with the sugar-sweet romance of Delirium, the competitive atmosphere of Divergent, and the kill-or-be-killed mentality of The Hunger Games, you might enjoy The Testing. Just be prepared for a near-perfect protagonist and a whole lot of walking/biking around a ruined wasteland. 

If you have read it: did you find the romance as groan-worthy as I did? 
Just one more thing I wanted to mention: I'm a bit concerned, given the ending, that the next book might spend a fair bit of time just re-hashing the events of the first... which I hope is not the case, as that would be pretty boring.

Final verdict: 3.5 shooting stars.

Disclaimer: I received this book for review from the publisher.

Note: There is some violent content in this book.


  1. Personally I enjoyed all three of the books in this trilogy but had the same complaint after book one that she knew how to do everything which usually went into a story about this one time with her dad when he had to teach it to her for some reason or other, it was too convenient. The second book is good, after the end of the first, it changes the game a little but it didn't feel like a redo

  2. Thanks for the comprehensive review, Danya! I've had this one on my radar as it's popular in my library but I'm a bit hesitant to pick it up. I agree with you that the focus on academia is interesting but the too smart MC makes it a dull read. I'm still on the fence about this one.


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