Friday, May 31, 2013
Me on The Testing
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Release Date: June 4, 2013
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
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 the young 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, a 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.
The Testing is a curious book, at times subtle and at times obvious and clear in its lethality. It seems to be a look at what young people are capable of when pushed to their limits, at how intelligent they are when tested and wrong answers have dangerous results, at how far trust can go, and how sometimes the only person you can trust is yourself.
Cia is rather intelligent. She's curious and extremely cautious of the Testing, not unsure of what to expect but what could happen if a question is answered incorrectly. She doesn't want to offend anyone but she wants to, hopefully, stay alive, to keep those few she genuinely cares about safe. But the warnings from her father increase her suspicions, about her fellow candidates, about the doctors and instructors. How much can she trust anyone, even those she's close to? How far will her trust go? What if emotion gets in the way? Can she truly trust Tomas when she's been told no one can be trusted?
The book has a very clear dystopian setting. Outlying colonies and magistrates that observe and control, every action has a purpose, nothing is wasted. Everything is about the preservation of this world and its continued survival. But the past is shrouded is death and destruction, a past society is meant to learn from and never repeat. It's a world rebuilt from war and terror with new hope for the future. But why put the smartest and brightest teenagers through the Testing? Are leaders simply born, or are they only created through tests and pressure, through lies and betrayal?
Now, I will agree that there are parallels to The Hunger Games, the same can be said of most dystopian YA that's come out in the past few years. There is more of an emphasis on learning and knowledge and less on chance, more on intelligence with a focus on preserving the colonies and their way of life, but very much a 'the smartest and boldest and most cunning will come out alive' mentality. The Testing is to discover who will be the future leaders and teachers of their rebuilt world. But how close to the edge will it push Cia to question everything she's been told?
As I read this, something was missing, something was lacking. There is danger, there is deception, there is betrayal, but it didn't feel as immediate or as powerful as I was expecting. Perhaps it's because the Testing is like an exam, complete with papers and pencils. Perhaps it was Cia herself, quiet and non-threatening, cautious and not overtly rebellious or questioning. I'm still curious as to what will come next, but not necessarily excited.
(I acquired an advance copy of this title at ALA Midwinter.)