It’s easy to see why there have been so many comparisons to The Hunger Games since when you edit out some of the particulars, they sound quite similar: a teenaged girl from a relatively unknown, rural sector is chosen to participate in the Testing, a yearly event which brings pride and wealth to her home town. She finds comfort and romance with a boy from her hometown, who is also one of the chosen. Her intelligence and ability to survive is put to the test in a competition against her peers, who are encouraged to use deadly force to further their own interests, and she discovers her government has secrets they’re desperate to keep hidden. But to be completely honest, the similarities didn’t bother me because Cia honestly didn’t know what she was getting herself in to.
What did bother me about The Testing, however, were certain plot holes that I’m surprised weren’t explained. How is it that a society has the technology to create solar-powered hover vehicles, cameras and televisions, but they don’t have a large-scale communication system? As Cia herself pointed out, why don’t people question what happens to those candidates who fail the Testing? If sinister things aren’t happening, why do those who make it to the University need to have their memories wiped? And what’s the point of it all? Why bring together the best of the best, only to kill off the majority? How will that further society? And then there were the abundance of dystopian tropes that read like the author had followed a “How to Write Dystopian for Dummies,” recipe: a post-apocalyptic setting that hints at biological warfare, with info-dumps in spades, yet we’re left without the details about the actual war; a Big Brother-esque government that plays at being well-intentioned; a lack of clean drinking water and food sources, but the protagonist recognizes cake; rebel influences that know details about the protagonist they shouldn’t and that believe the protagonist will be the key in bringing down the corrupt government; a childhood friend who becomes more while simultaneously breaking the protagonists’ trust; and so on. While the existence of these tropes didn’t necessarily detract from my enjoyment of The Testing, I was pulled out of the story, if only temporarily, with every instance I happened across.
The Testing’s plot wasn’t all bad though, as the action was non-stop and the heightened sense of survival kept me in suspense and on the edge of my seat! There was never a dull moment, especially with the constant threat from the Big Brother government, and the danger lurking behind every turn. I loved being surprised by which candidates turned on their peers and which ones stuck true to their values. I did find that Cia’s adamance to remain true to herself and how her parents raised her, while noble and slightly endearing, was a bit naive and foolish; in a race to the finish, with the threat of death increasing with every minute, worrying about whether a mutated creature has any of its humanity left would not be at the top of my priority list. Worrying about those creatures though, would be; inhuman, animal-like speed and agility, combined with the cunning and intelligence of a higher-order species? Enough to give me nightmares!
Cia was an interesting protagonist. I admired her intelligence and ability to remain calm under pressure, and her moments of strength and perseverance far surpassed her moments of weakness. She learned from her mistakes and trusted easily, which would eventually be exploited by her enemies. But while I was able to appreciate Cia as a protagonist, she was never someone I warmed up to, never someone I would say I could relate to. Her intelligence had her approach every situation like it was a test, so her reactions were always calculated. There were moments where she almost broke, where she almost reacted from emotion instead of logic, but she always managed to reel in her emotions at the last minute. It made her narration slightly cold and detached, as she didn’t feel anything deeply – or if she did, she was able to push it aside in order to focus on the task at hand.
I also found that Charbonneau’s writing mirrored Cia’s thought process, in that The Testing was written very matter-of-factly, with precision and without passion. While it added to The Testing’s great pacing, since everything was short and to the point, it didn’t create a very lyrical or make for an overly memorable reading experience.
Despite my reservations, I did enjoy The Testing. It was a fairly quick read, and I found myself eager to return to its story whenever I did have to set it down. While I won’t be rushing out to buy the sequel on release day, this is a series that I will be continuing with!