Book Review: “The Testing”

The Testing – Joelle Charbonneau (2013)

!!!NOTE: THIS BOOK HAS NOT BEEN RELEASED YET!!! While I endeavor to keep all my reviews spoiler-free, please keep that in mind! This is a review of an ARC downloaded from NetGalley.

That being said, see my subtitle for the book: “The Hunger Games: School Edition.”

I am generally more than lenient with “clearly inspired by” novels. There are no real original ideas left in the world, my art teacher once told me, and I am inclined to believe him.  I had no initial ideas about what I was going to be reading in Charbonneau’s novel, seeing only what the description gave me, and thinking that it sounded like a very interesting concept. YA dystopias are of particular interest to me.

…However, I would have been better off if I hadn’t read The Hunger Games first.

Because truth be told, The Testing is clearly inspired by HG – and not trying to hide it in the least. At the very beginning of the novel – and I mean that; my note is on page 11 – the entirety of the district colony is gathered for the graduation of the children from their basic schooling, and the leader of the group stands up and wishes everyone “Happy Graduation Day”. My note? “And may the odds be ever in your favor.”

The characters are relatively flat – each one has their place in the plot and does not seem to grow much – and the plot is predictable and juvenile. As a note, I am aware that this is marketed as young adult fiction – however, there is a line to be drawn. This is somewhere that Hunger Games had issue as well, at times. There is a certain element of “talking down” to the reader: making the dialogue and description overly simplistic to allow for younger minds to grasp. While there is a certain necessity for that in YA, it does not need to be quite as blatant as these two do. (To be fair, both books get better about this as the book goes on.)

The romance plot between Katniss and Peeta Cia and Tomas is flimsy and sudden – even for characters in their situations. It’s even harder to believe without a Gale member of the triangle to even it out – though it’s possible that Will was attempting to fill that place (though I can name a few other Tributes that would better suit that role). It was difficult to care about any of the other tributes candidates, as the nature of the story-telling didn’t allow for Cia – or the reader – to get close to them. Thus by the end, we have Cia, Will, and Tomas – and I’m only somewhat invested in any of them, because really they don’t lend to trusting themselves either.

The end of the book was expected, though I was hoping for something else, honestly. Pieces had fallen into place for something beyond what you expected to happen, and the book simply didn’t deliver. I was left with a very similar feeling to when I read Orwell’s 1984. (And despite the classic status of that book, that’s not a good thing.)

All in all, if you’re looking for a young adult dystopia, built on the collapse of former society and a hierarchy built on remembering what happened and keeping it from happening again, that focuses on young adults being taken (potentially for good) from their homes and molded into what the government wants them as, and along the way trying to find romance…

Well, this book is all those things. But so are several others. (And both series either are, or are slated to be, trilogies.)

The Testing hits bookshelves on June 4th.

Final Rating: ** Not Impressed


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