Title: The Testing (The Testing #1)
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Released: 4th June 2013
Rating: 3 of 5 stars
It took me a while to have any sort of firm grasp on what I thought of this book, because it really was a mix for me. The reviews for this were mixed, so I didn't really know what to expect going in, and then the book itself seemed to reflect all of those different thoughts, leaving me uncertain as to what exactly I made of this. But after thinking on it, it seems to me a solid read, even if flawed.
Cia wants nothing more than to be chosen as a Testing candidate so she can go to the University, get a better education and come out with a successful career that will help rebuild their destroyed planet. And when she is selected as a candidate, she's ecstatic. This is short-lived, however, when her dad speaks to her the night before she leaves, warning her that this isn't the great opportunity she thinks it is, and that she must trust no-one. Cia thinks on her father's words constantly, newfound suspicion arising in her as she looks at those around her. Gradually she realises that he is right, that nothing is what it seems and that everything and everyone is too sinister to be trusted. But there must be some people she can trust - someone, surely? If not anyone else, what about the person she's falling in love with?
It took me a little while to really get into this, as I felt disconnected from the writing. While nothing was technically wrong with it, it just seemed to fall flat for me. This did, however, improve throughout the course of the book; though by the end it was no means perfect, it was enough for me to feel more connected with the plot and with the characters. The world-building itself allowed me to get a clear image of the world Cia was living in, and how it had come to be that way, although I feel this could have been more smoothly done, since there was some info-dump. Yet I did like the idea of The Testing and the need to pass it before being allowed into the University. One of the things that stand out most to me about it is that it comprises of both an academic and a practical element. I can't really think of a dystopia I've read where they've had to sit down and do hours worth of exams, which is part of what Cia and her fellow candidates had to do, and is actually something that we can relate to. This was then balanced with practical tasks of various natures, until finally the main part of The Testing, the real test that they all need to pass, the one that most challenges the question of their survival. I have to admit, this did feel like The Hunger Games - but since I'm one of the extremely rare people who were disappointed with The Hunger Games, this wasn't a problem. In fact - and here's where I really may lose a few (alright, a lot) friends - I'd go so far as to say this was better. Yes, that's what I said. Go on, then. Off you go. I'll just talk to myself now.
What I really feel The Testing would benefit from is more characterisation. Cia was a decent enough character, very resourceful, actually, which I really appreciated...but there could have been more. More development and more about her that would have enabled me to really root for her and connect with her. The same with Tomas. For this reason the romance between them didn't work for me. Their characters weren't present enough, weren't vivid or real enough; I didn't understand what they saw in each other, why they were in this relationship. I didn't feel any spark or chemistry. This need for more did not apply to all the characters - there was one who particularly surprised me because his true nature was not actually what I thought it was; and I definitely got a sense of ruthlessness and danger from the staff, especially with certain tasks. Michal, too, became something of a favourite. There were some characters and events linked to them that did have me feeling emotion. I just wish this could have extended to the protagonist and her love interest.
The Testing, all in all, is by no means a bad book. It has flaws which, for me, cannot allow a complete enjoyment of the book, yet I did want to keep reading. I did want to see what happened and what the outcome would be. And I do certainly want to read the sequel. To anyone still reading this review (and I'd be very surprised), if you're still not sure about this, I would encourage you to check out what other people have said, since, as I mentioned before, this is one there seems to be a lot of debate over.