The Testing — Joelle Charbonneau

2/5 stars
Goodreads summary: Who will be chosen to lead? The best…the brightest…the deadliest? There will be a testing. In the wake of the Seven Stages War, the government of the Unified Commonwealth devised The Testing to assess the instinct, intellect and sheer nerve among a select group of the population’s young people. Candidates who pass, attend the University to become leaders of the Commonwealth; civilization’s hope to transform a post-war wasteland into a peaceful and technologically advanced society. But progress comes at a price. Mechanically-inclined Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a candidate but on the eve of her departure, her father confides partial memories of his grisly experience as a candidate, still haunted by nightmares and living in fear of what he can’t remember. It’s not enough to pass the test, Cia will have to survive it “and “her deadly fellow candidates. To stay alive Cia will have to learn who she can trust and, if necessary, who she must kill.

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This is a review of an ARC provided by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is a very, very hard review for me to write. I finished The Testing almost a month ago and since then I’ve been sitting down periodically, going through pages on my e-reader and trying to put into words exactly what bothers me about this book in a way that doesn’t sound mean or petty but still gives a good idea of what I perceive to be the book’s flaws, and without providing any spoilers.

These days you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a YA dystopian novel that isn’t being touted as The Next Hunger Games. This is the blessing and the curse of the Hunger Games trilogy: On the one hand it is an amazing series that has spawned a resurgence in dystopian fiction, which is fascinating even without throwing teenagers and their crazy hormones into the mix. On the other hand we now have more of The Next Hunger Games than we know what to do with.

And it doesn’t really seem fair to all of these other dystopian books to be comparing them to the Hunger Games all the time. It sets certain expectations, kind of like when you have two kids and you’re always asking one of them, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” And then when the books fail to meet these expectations, everyone is frustrated.

When it comes to The Testing, though, calling it The Next Hunger Games isn’t totally off the mark. Because when it boils down to it, this basically is The Hunger Games: You’ve got your war that destroyed the old way of life, your dystopian landscape where people struggle to get by, your Big Brother government who wants to take a selected few of the chi’drens for their own nefarious purposes, and your survival-savvy hero and heroine who fall in love but maybe can’t trust each other.

And if I hadn’t read this same story so many times by now, it wouldn’t be so bad. Cia isn’t exactly an engaging character—she is analytical to the point of almost being a machine and her voice is for the most part very sparse and flat—and the complete lack of background on Tomas makes it pretty much impossible for me to care about the Cia/Tomas relationship, but this book would’ve probably wrangled a three-star rating from me. The two of them are thrown into a strange situation where they have to use their intellect to survive, and there are a couple unexpected betrayals and alliances. I like survival stories and I like YA. This should technically be a match made in heaven.

But I have read it multiple times just in the past year, and The Hunger Games did it better, and more importantly did it first. Calling any book The Next Hunger Games at this point is only doing it—and any potential readers—a disservice. The cliffhanger ending shows potential for the next book to take a more original turn, and I hope it does. (You do you, The Testing!) I’m also left with the feeling that Cia will be more multidimensional in the next installment, what with all of the secrets and discoveries and other things I can’t talk about here. For the last quarter of the book, she was starting to feel more human and less automaton; the story ended right when I started to get sort of excited.

If you liked The Hunger Games and Divergent and are looking for something a little less gritty and don’t mind a lack of new material, The Testing may be for you. As a dystomance it’s pretty middle-of-the-pack, but that isn’t uncommon with first books. So I will be back for book two! I always am.

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