Review: The Testing - Joelle Charbonneau

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau.
ARC provided by NetGalley.

Malencia Vale is very excited to be graduating school. Not only does graduation day turn children into adults, but she secretly hopes that all her hard work will finally have paid off, and illicited an invitation to University. Not just anyone can get into the United Commonwealth University, after all. In the wake of the Seven Stages of War - four man-made and three where the earth fought back - the United Commonwealth is extremely judicious in whom is admitted each year, only twenty candidates from all the colonies make it to Orientation. But Cia thinks she can make it, and that she will be the first one to go to University in years, becoming the pride of the Five Lakes Colony, and proving that all the hard work they have been doing to make water potable and foods edible will finally earn them the respect they deserve. Only there is no official from Tosu City at Graduation.

But he's only been delayed. In fact Cia is not the only one from her small colony, under a thousand people, to be selected to test for admission this year, she and three others, including the handsome and highly intelligent Tomas Endress, the artistic and beautiful Zandri Hicks and the shy but sweet Malachi Rourke. There is turmoil when Cia thinks there should be celebration, and in her excitement her father, himself a University graduate, reveals that the Testing is not just questions on paper, but a fight for your life where absolutely no one can be trusted. All that remains of his time in the Testing, are flashes of memory which haunt his nightmares.

Discovering a camera hidden on the skimmer that takes them to Tosu City, Cia finds that their every move is being watched by Tosu officials, and that the test may already have begun...

The Testing, to scrupulous blurb-readers, sounds an awful like The Hunger Games, and as I've already mentioned, it follows in Divergent's and Marie Lu's Legend footsteps of Heroines in Battle Royale. If you actually crack The Testing open, and you should, you will be in for a pleasant surprise. Never having read The Hunger Games or Legend I can only compare it with Divergent and those were not as significant as I first believed. Divergent threw me some loops through which I absolutely could not jump, and as things are now, I will not be reading the rest of the trilogy. I have had no such problem with Joelle Charbonneau's Distopian YA Novel.

Cia is quiet, she is naïve, and while she trusts her abilities, in her caring and sharing colony, she's never had to take things, because they were always given freely. All her assertions, about herself, about the Commonwealth and about people she has known her entire life, are challenged and slowly begin to erode. Taking her father's nightmares in stride, but unwilling to cast distrust on everyone as he father suggested, lands Cia in trouble in the early stages of the testing. She shares with Tomas her suspicions, especially after a teammate turns out to be extremely duplicitous, and as they near the stage of the test where survival skills will be put to good use, under the guise introducing them to the challenges they will need to overcome as future leaders of the Commonwealth. In this stage of the tests, where they are put between two fences and told to run from Chicago to Tosu City, a lot can go wrong. And while Cia is un-eager to handle a weapon, she does take a small handgun, just in case...

She and Tomas, however, the more they experience in the tests, and the more they come to care for one another, are increasingly afraid of the memory wipes. They search for a way, after all they have come through, to avoid it, but, in the end, when Cia passes, is accepted into the University, she cannot remember a thing that transpired after she stepped of the Skimmer that brought her to Tosu City.

Joelle Charbonneau's language is not flowery, her techinique not terribly literary, but she is effective. Only a few words, serve little purpose in the whole book. Cia's voice, formal and polite, her language shaped by a world which knows its mistakes and strives to do better, suits her. She quickly adapts, but furthermore, does not develop abilities out of thin air, she does not accomplish the impossible. Everything from cover to cover feels authentic, until her memory of the tests is erased, and The Testing acquires a feeling similar to Scott Westerfeld's Uglies sequel, Pretties. Which isn't a bad thing.

The Testing is YA Sci-Fi at its best. It struggles to answer questions of moral obligation, your life's worth, and following the path your 'betters' have set out for you. Cia has long been out of the influential reach of the capitol, but once there, she feels the Commonwealth changing her, not for the better. There are mysteries, mutations, and advances in DNA modification, technology and pharmaceuticals, but not all scars can be healed, not all fall-out can be shielded against. This was a fantastic book, and it looks like Independent Study and Graduation Day will be coming out next year in January and June respectively. I'm really looking forward to the conclusion to this series, I think Joelle Charbonneau has the resolve to not only topple governments, but the heart to bring some solace to poor mislead Cia.

I hope you'll check it out, and if you've already had a look at the prequel and are reading The Testing, let me know what you think!

337pp. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 4th June 2013.