Review | The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

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“The best leaders make mistakes and then learn from them. The best leaders never make the same mistakes again. The only way you can learn is if you understand the mistakes that were made.”

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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 and 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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Ahhh, why can’t all young adult dystopias be like this?! As you may have noticed in my review for Matched, I think YA dystopias are pretty hard to write. The Testing was so often compared to The Hunger Games and Divergent that I couldn’t help but draw similarities between them, as I was reading it. Though the Tests are somewhat similar to Dauntless Initiation and The Hunger Games, it’s wholly unique and it’s own. The pace is excellent, Cia is a an awesome protagonist (who isn’t a Mary Sue), the plot is exhilarating, and dang, I couldn’t put this book down!

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A brutal World War has left America, along with the rest of the world, a desolate, toxic wasteland. Cities were desecrated, and plants, animals, & humans were mutated. Malencia (Cia) Vale wants nothing more than to attend the United Commonwealth University, where she will be able to help rehabilitate her desolate country and home.

After her graduation, Cia’s wish is granted – she is chosen as a candidate for the Testing. If she passes the Tests thrown at her, she will be admitted to the University. The problem? Wrong answers are penalized with death, & less than twenty percent of the candidates make it through…and some will do anything to achieve a spot.

I am a huge fan of any sort of competition to the death. Mwhuahaha.  But seriously, I really like books with that concept. It’s no surprise that I loved the Tests and battle-royale-like competitors.

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You know those books *cough*Divergent *cough* that have an intriguing setting, but don’t give any detail as to how the society came to be like that? And no, there was a nuclear war and this totalitarian government rose… is not a thorough enough explanation for my liking. In The Testing, we’re actually given the background of how the United Commonwealth was formed – the nuclear war is described in detail (Asia declared war on the United States, they retaliated, Africa allies with Asia…etc). I’m aware that’s probably inaccurate, but you get the picture. What really fascinated me was the struggles the colonies go through trying to cope with the radiated and mutated soil, and the use of technology to develop hybridized vegetation.

I also loved the ruins of the major cities like Chicago and St. Louis, and the harsh landscape that had overtaken them. The mutated animals and humans were really neat as well, because they weren’t the typical zombies (?) that are in every YA book, and they only make an appearance two or three times. They reminded me of the mutts from The Hunger Games, but that’s probably just because their eyes still appear human, even though the rest of them is a mangled, bloody mess.

The Testing. I really liked the idea of the Testing, but had two main issues with it: why are so few admitted to the University, & why would you kill off eighty percent of the most intelligent minds in the Commonwealth?  The whole end justifies the means saying as an infrastructure for dystopian societies has always seemed unrealistic to me. Looking past that, the Tests were well-done. The officials are constantly monitoring every seemingly, insignificant detail and decision you make. Not only is it a very physical test, but a mental one too. You can’t show any weakness or fear, but don’t want to be seen as a threat, or else you will surely sabotaged or killed.

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“I’ll have you fixed in no time. Only…” His eyes narrow. “Only what?” I feel the blush heating my cheeks even before I say, “You’re going to have to remove your pants for me to do it.”  

This is going to sound really unimportant and stupid (because it is), but I love it when heroines are short! Hahaha. I’m only 5’2, so it’s nice when there are characters who can understand what it’s like to be small. *Ahem* Moving on…Cia isn’t a special snowflake; she’s an average 16-year-old girl (though, a little more intelligent than most) who grew up in a relatively small colony, with her parents and four brothers. She’s curious, clever, resourceful, and I loved her! Her humanity and trust in others makes her such a likable protagonist. Unlike most heroines, Cia doesn’t spend half the book mooning over some guy, and isn’t magically brilliant and beautiful! I also really liked that she takes an interest in mechanical engineering and botany.

Cia’s relationship with Tomas was done really well. Tomas may be a little cliche, but what the heck, I thought he was awesome. He’s so sweet and caring to Cia. I liked how their romance wasn’t insta-love, and it manifested over time. It felt realistic and genuine, and wasn’t over done. I especially loved how Cia would call him out if he did something stupid. Haha.

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Sheesh, I love this book (in case that wasn’t clear yet). The characters, setting, plot, romance, and execution are all spectacular. I honestly don’t know how this book could’ve been any better. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone who has an interest in dystopias.

Let me know your thoughts, if you’ve read The Testing! 

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