The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau

The TestingAfter the surprising death-fest that was Lexicon, I figured, what better way to recover than reading an unsurprising death-fest? Yeah, I probably have issues. This is a book that my coworker will not read, no matter how much I think she’d like it otherwise, because it involves kids killing kids, so bear that in mind if you are likewise squeamish.

I described this elsewhere as a sort of nerdier The Hunger Games. The aforementioned kids are chosen not by random and not to hunt each other for televised sport, but by being the best and brightest and to compete against each other (hunting if necessary) in absolute, memory-wipe-controlled privacy in a bid to enter The University. I’ll stick with the SAT, thanks.

I knew going in, what with all the similar comparisons to The Hunger Games being made, that there was going to be that cage match, kill-or-be-killed part to the book. But it’s actually kind of worse. Once the story gets to The Testing, you find out that even though the first part of the test is just knowing history and some basic technology and survival skills, the punishment for a wrong answer is injury or death, because of course it is. There are also tests of the students’ ability to work with each other, which some students take advantage of to indirectly cause injury or death, the cowards, and then there’s the “survival in our post-apocalyptic landscape” portion which devolves into the expected cage match pretty quickly.

So be ready for violence and sloppy eating, is what I’m saying.

The not-violent part of the novel is where I had the most trouble, though, because I had a hard time seeing how all this carnage actually did anything useful for the government. They took all the smartest high school graduates and then killed most of them so that the remaining could lead what would necessarily be a dumber nation? This makes sense how? I felt a little validated near the end of the book when Cia asks the same question, and based on how the book ends I have a feeling we’re going to get some more of that information in the sequel, but it would have been nice to have at least some explanation of what’s going on from the beginning.

On the plus side, though, I really liked what Charbonneau did with Cia, making her pretty smart and logical but not overly badass and therefore much more relatable to me in particular, and also giving her a love straight line that she’s not, like, super invested in because hey, she’s got other things to worry about! I was doing a little dance in my chair over this fact, and I hope that it catches on with the actual target audience of this kind of book so that I can see more realistic relationships in the future.

The other characters are not terribly well fleshed out (which, I mean, Cia’s got other stuff to worry about than giving us full backstories, here), but they are used well to show that Cia as a first person narrator does not really understand everything that’s going on around her and also that there’s more than one way to be a smart and logical person, which is nice to see.

I am definitely looking forward to the next book in the series, which takes place in the University portion of this education and promises to answer at least some of my many questions about this horrible future world that we should probably avoid creating.

Recommendation: For those who can handle kid-on-kid violence and also want a little intelligence mixed in with it.

Rating: 8/10

an RIP read

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