The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

The TestingInformation

Goodreads: The Testing
Series: The Testing #1
Source: Library
Published: June 4, 2013

Official Summary

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close when they may be one in the same?
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, 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, her handsome 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 has an interesting plot, solid pacing, and intelligent protagonists.  If I had not already encountered this plot in several other YA dystopians, I probably would have loved the book.  The opening scene is immediately reminiscent of a number of others novels.  Featuring a teenage girl going to a graduation ceremony that will determine her future in her dystopian society, it evokes scenes from at least Delirium, Matched, and Divergent.  Once Cia is chosen for the Testing, the plot is most similar to Divergent as Cia must pass a variety of tasks to move on in the completion.  Finally, the plot mirrors that of The Hunger Games, as Cia and her fellow Testing candidates are dropped off in the wilderness to fend for themselves and kill their competition if necessary. The Testing, of course, puts some unique details on the plot, but the similarities to other YA books are so strong that the story barely seems worth reading for anyone who already has read many other dystopians, particularly Divergent and The Hunger Games. 

Even the characters cannot set The Testing apart.  Cia, in my opinion, is likeable and I was totally rooting for her.  However, her defining characteristic is decency.  While this is admirable, one of the many reasons I wanted her to succeed, and a large element in the plot and themes of the novel, it simply does not make Cia the most exciting female dystopian protagonist.  Excitement, of course, is unnecessary for a book to be interesting or good, but its presence could really help a book already struggling to differentiate itself from every other book in its genre.  The Testing’s attempt to be different from books like The Hunger Game by being a little more “quiet,” emphasizing that good leaders are good people and not just good killers, may actually lead it to become lost in the crowd rather than standing out in it.

Furthermore, beyond Cia’s intelligent and mature discussions of what the ideal Testing candidate (i.e. ideal future leader of her nation) should be like, Cia and her friends are not very dynamic.  Everyone chosen for the Testing is smart, but their brilliance inevitably appears commonplace to the reader because no one is lacking in it.  In this post-apocalyptic society, it is apparently normal for teenagers to engineer innovative irrigation systems, electrical systems, new plant life, etc.  And although the Testing candidates are supposed to have a specialty, most of them appear to be good at everything, and no one is as good at everything as Cia.  If she encounters a problem, she solves it in a heartbeat.  It might take her time, say a day or two, to execute her idea, but that only involves the practical part of building her brilliant design.  The design itself comes to her, unflawed, almost instantaneously, no matter the situation.

The dystopian government of the novel also has some flaws.  After finishing the book, I am still asking myself why any of this had to happen at all.  Why does the government want candidates to die during the Testing?  As Cia observes repeatedly, the Testing committee could easily weed out the “weaklings” without having them actually die.  Right now, I, and Cia, can only assume the Testing officials are sick and voyeuristic, but (as I mentioned in my review of Nerve), I never find this type of explanation satisfying.)  I also wonder why the Resistance is interested in Cia.  So far, nothing special about her has been revealed.  Presumably it will be later in the series, but some hints should be dropped so readers do not spend the entirety of book one scratching their heads and thinking so many of the plot elements make so little sense.

The Testing is well-written and has a lot going for it thematically.  Cia tackles head-on important questions about her society, what it means it be a good person and a good leader, and what her experience during the chilling stages of the Testing should mean to her and to others.   Charbonneau is clearly a thoughtful writer who wants to provoke readers’ minds and not just their emotions; she wants to inspire in addition to stimulate.  Unfortunately, Charbonneau’s thoughtfulness is packaged in other writers’ plots.  The book would probably be incredibly enjoyable to readers just discovering the dystopian genre, but avid fans of it will recognize they have read variations of this book before.

Bottom Line: I would read more of this author’s work, but I am not interested in this particular series.

Discuss! What do you think of a dystopian novel that celebrates characters who are smart, rather than physically tough?

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7 thoughts on “The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

    • Briana says:

      So many books are accused of being Hunger Games rip-offs, but I honestly haven’t read one as blatant as this. The characters are slightly different (the focus on their intelligence rather than, say, archery skills), but they found themselves in oddly similar situations to Katniss and Peeta, even when it was unnecessary. For instance, the scene where Tomas is hurt and Cia has to help heal him and it turns romantic? Huge Hunger Games undertones there.

      It’s a shame because I honestly think the author has potential.


  1. Jayd says:

    Great review! Although it is a shame there are so many other similar books. I am fairly new to the dystopian genre, having only read The Hunger Games and The Running Man, but i guess as things get popular some writers want to give their own input/version.
    I think its good that some dystopian novels value smarts over physical strength, but I have yet to hear of a dystopian where the main character completes their actions without being the smartest or whatever. Maybe it would be refreshing to see something like that.


    • Briana says:

      I can understand there being similarities between books in a genre. A corrupt government, for instance, would be common in dystopians. But the similarities to other novels are simply out of control in The Testing. I’m very surprised this got through editors.

      Great point! I understand characters need some skills in order to complete a crazy survival test like the ones here and in The Hunger Games, but it could be interesting if the characters weren’t basically the best at whatever they do and needed to rely more heavily on teamwork.


      • Jayd says:

        Similarities are one thing, but when books end up being practically the same it gets repetitive. Every book needs a few things that make it different to all the others.

        Exactly! I’m pretty bored of characters knowing the right decision or just what to do in a situation, which is why I like books like the Percy Jackson series where they have to sit and actually work out what the hell is going on.


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