Don’t eat the corncakes.
Joelle Charbonneau’s The Testing takes place in the United States, now referred to as the United Commonwealth, decades after the end of the Seven Stages War. Cia Vale lives in the Five Lakes Colony where she graduates from school and is chosen for The Testing, the series of exams that will determine who is accepting into the University. Her father gives her a cryptic message about the students, the officials, and the tests, and Cia must choose who she trusts because if she chooses wrong, she won’t live to see the next phase.
This novel exhibits all the signs of a YA dystopian: strong, independent, and overly trusting protagonist; deep familial bonds; new romantic interest that is strained by circumstance; and a government repairing itself after a large world war and catastrophe. Having met this unofficial criteria, The Testing is what I imagine Hunger Games could have been with a little more purpose. Cia and the other university candidates are tested in a section of the United Commonwealth that is overgrown by bombed cities, mutated humans, and radiation to see if they can survive to repair the damage caused by history. Rather than killing each other merely for survival, they do it to prove they are worthy for whatever the government has in store for the next two novels.
Cia is a believable character almost to the fault of being too trusting, but her willingness to accept a mistake and keep up her guard is what had me hoping she would succeed. Charbonneau throws a lot of twists in the plot, and even when you think you figure it out, there’s a second one to the first and it’s almost impossible to tell who is trying to be human and who is striving to be powerful. Her love interest felt forced, however, and it seemed like it should have developed much later in the story because the beginning rarely mentions the young man. Is this love or simply clinging to what life once was? I’m hoping the relationship is either fleshed out or reconsidered in the next novel.
As a dystopian, the focus always reverts back to the government, but this one felt so covered up that I could barely start guessing at what these candidates were wanted for. Will they be tested on? Will they test on regions or people? Will they lead another attack? There are too many options to consider because the first novel was only about how Cia must prove herself to protect her life and her family. More should have been about her questiing the government and understanding it rather than trying to simply get into it.
Overall, the novel was a fun read, and I will be finishing this series. Hopefully it gains momentum and depth because if it starts focusing on Cia rather than the government as a whole it’ll feel too much like a repeat of Katniss and I don’t think anyone wants more of her. If you're interested, you can get the book here.
Rating: 3.5 / 5 Lakes