Monday, August 26, 2013

The Ultimate Test

The college admissions process can be grueling. Having everything you have done in your adolescence examined to determine your potential for future success is painful to even think about. But what if you attendance in a University was determined with a Testing that rivaled the Hunger Games? In Joelle Charbonneau's The Testing, a group of young adults face the ultimate college admissions process... one that comes down to life or death.

Cia Vale waits to hear if she has been chosen for the Testing, like all graduates. In order to go to University, you must be chosen by the government for the Testing, but no one knows the exact formula for being chosen. Since the Seven Stages war left most of the world a poisonous, charred wasteland, only the students with the most potential are chose for the Testing. And of those, only the best of the best are chosen to move onto University. The government can't waste resources on people who aren't going to find real solutions to their very dangerous problems, like how to grow crops in soil that has been bombed and still contains the poison of those terrifying days. When Cia is chosen for the Testing, she is thrilled, until her father tells her about his own nightmares of the Testing. While the testers wipe your memories of the Testing after they are finished, her father is proof that they can't take everything... even if you wished they had. 

While Cia knows, thanks to her father's warnings, not to trust the other candidates, she can't help but be drawn to Tomas. They clearly have a lot in common, having come from the same colony, but their connection is more than that. As the tests begin, it becomes clear just how far the Testers are willing to go in order to weed out the unsavory candidates. Unfortunately for Cia and the others, their definition of unsavory doesn't exactly follow a moral or ethical code. The tests become more and more dangerous, but the final test is the one that will weed out the most candidates. The final test is the one they might not survive, if they have even survived this long. Cia and Tomas are safer if they work together, but can she trust him?

OK. Let's acknowledge the elephant in the room. If you have read the Hunger Games, you are going to see a LOT of similarities here. Not just the "every dystopia after Hunger Games is going to be compared to Hunger Games even if they have nothing in common" shtick. Nope. This book really is very similar, from the unwillingness to enter the contest/trial, to the kind mentor who guides the leading lady, to the "do I trust, do I not trust" the boy from your home town who was sent with you, to the other murderous, treacherous contestants. But there is the thing. Even with those incredibly obvious similarities and familiarity, this was still a really great story. Sometimes I get bogged down where there is too much "inspired by" going on in a new series, but this one was SO exciting and interesting that I didn't care where Charbonneau got her inspiration. I really, really liked this story a lot. The characters were interesting and surprising, the world is terrifying and mesmerizing at the same time, and the plot was fast-paced and well written. Truthfully? Whether you think you spy a Collins copy cat or not, you won't be able to deny the fact that you like this series just as much as Hunger Games! Truly, don't let the familiarity with the story bog you down. Just let Charbonneau work her magic and you won't be sorry.

This story is appropriate for anyone who read or watched the Hunger Games (sorry, but you can't deny they connection). It is also good for anyone interested in dystopias or post-apocalyptic stories. The content can be gruesome at times, especially if you are truly sensitive to any violence, but I don't think it is too gratuitous to preclude students from reading this series. I am sure there are enough people out there who will be disturbed by the violence and won't want to give this book to their children or students, but I promise you the message behind the violence is strong and anti-violent. This story will be perfect for any reluctant reader, and even though the protagonist is female, I think you will find a lot of male readers clamoring for the sequel once they give this story a shot. So don't let yourself be bogged down by the Panem similarities. Instead, look at this book with a clear mind and an open mind- one that will let you recognize it for the fabulous ride it will take you on. 

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