The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

Okay, so after a stint of not reading any YA dystopian novels because my reactions were shall we say, less than positive, I decided to take a chance with Joelle Charbonneau's debut The Testing. A cut-throat university setting where students are expected to learn how to rebuild the world without being stabbed in the back by their class mates? I'll bite.

After the world was decimated and recognizable civilization all but destroyed, tiny pockets or colonies were established to help bring mankind back to life. Only the brightest and best however were sent to Tosu City, to the University, to learn how to help rebuild and become the future leaders. Cia is a young candidate, chosen from her primarily agricultural colony, selected for the Testing -- a rigorous testing to be allowed entrance to the University. Where the penalty for wrong answers is more than just a bad grade. Warned by her father to trust no one, Cia is packed off to the big city where her life and her family's will forever change. If only she can make it through her exams.

I was initially very much on board with the idea behind The Testing. But like so many others it quickly began to deteriorate into a less polished derivative of The Hunger Games. Which may be harsh to say fresh out of the starting gate, but let me say this: the comparisons are inevitable. Cia, a young girl from an unappreciated colony, travels to the big city, has unknown people 'watching' out for her, and must fight for her life to succeed. More than a little similar. The Testing started off at least with some original ideas but predictably fell into common tropes.

Let me back up, The Testing did have some good ideas - the general concept that after the world was all but destroyed, the colonists were trying to rebuild it by educating people on how to genetically alter plants and discover new energy sources - but the execution seems just short of believable. It's a book that wants to be technical but doesn't ever get much past general knowledge.

For example: we have Cia, a sixteen year old (prodigy, no less) who 'a few years ago' built a solar power system for her family. Okay, I'll buy that there are some very talented and resourceful teens who could accomplish that but I didn't get the sense that Cia was all that mechanically inclined beyond the author telling us she was by a few token descriptions. I'll be honest, I'm married to an engineer and from day one I knew his mind worked just a little bit differently from my own. To put it bluntly, Cia acts like someone's idea of how a mechanically-minded person thinks they would, but never really gets past the surface ideal. There is no fiddling, no try and retry, there isn't even jimmy-rigging for heavensakes (which I have learned is imperative to those of the mechanical bent)! And maybe I wouldn't be bothered quite so much if I wasn't intimately acquainted with someone just like that, but I am and thus Cia is utterly unbelievable. But kudos to Joelle Charbonneau for trying to write writing about a female interest in mechanical things.

Ultimately, my major problem with this book was the actual testing portion the candidates faced. Yes, it was intense and even a wee bit terrifying at times, but I began to wonder Is this really how they are searching for the best of the best? With the exception of the last survival exam (don't even get me started on that one), the tests were a gauge of intellect not knowledge. For example: what plants are poisonous, how to build a radio, history, etc. Nothing that checks for intuitive thinking. If I wanted to find the brightest future leaders, I think I would administer more tests of creativity and ability to learn and adapt rather than what they have already had in their teenage heads. So while The Testing had it's moments ultimately, it fails. In a big way.

The Testing comes out June 4, 2013

series reading order:
The Testing
~ Independent Study (Jan 2014)
~ Graduation Day (June 2014)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Heise Reads & Recommends review
Little Book Star review
Popcorn Reads review
Resistance is Futile review
Winter Haven Books review

book source: review copy from publisher

No comments: