The Testing Series

By Joelle Charbonneau
Published June 2013
Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Source: Purchased
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 in 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.

I have this problem, you see. When there's a series of books I absolutely have to finish it no matter how I felt about the first book. There's this sense of potential for the next book. It might be just as good. It might be worse. It might be better. Either way, most of the time, if there's a story that takes several books to tell I'm probably on board for the whole series. Usually.

The Testing looks to be at first glance another one of your standard YA dystopian novels. And, in truth, it falls into a lot of those tropes, but for good reason: they work. But sci-fi books and dystopias in particular aren't just about escapism from the world we're currently in, more often than not there's a commentary running just under the surface. With The Testing, that commentary is speaking to the educational system and the current worth of the high stakes competition we already put children through.

Yes, it's exaggerated. Of course it's exaggerated. But Cia's trials are an engaging story that absolutely needed to be told. It has its problems, but no book can really escape that. There's a romance that gets shoehorned in there with the standard 'I had no idea he was even paying attention to me' motif, something that annoyed me since I'm rather tired of the Suddenly A Love Interest plot. The last thing I want from my YA dystopias is A Romance when I didn't explicitly sign up for a Romance. I promise I couldn't care less about whether the MC is in love with someone. I care if she succeeds in her BAMF plans of rebellion or if she fails how spectacularly she does it. Cia was a strong enough character without an LI, and she proves to be so despite one too.

The Testing is a well done (and dare I say feminist) critique of our current higher education system (where crippling debt and psychological exhaustion for some people is about as damning as, well, what happens to some characters in the book,) that shouldn't be read as Just Another YA Dystopia and instead actually digested as more than what's on the surface. Don't stop at just the first book, either. Independent Study (December 2013) and Graduation Day (June 2014) build from the first one and in this reader's opinion only get better.

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