The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

15 Apr

testingTitle: The Testing
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Genre: dystopia/post-apocalyptic
Page Count: 325

Graduation Day. I can hardly stand still as my mother straightens my celebratory red tunic and tucks a strand of light brown hair behind my ear.

The setting is kind of sort of Chicago (as per usual) and it’s the future and everything is terrible. Sound familiar? Anyways, in this particular vision of the immediate future after an apocalypse, only a select, chosen few get to go to University once they have graduated from…regular school. The chosen few go to the big city, take some tests, and then are sent to work rehabilitating the planet for the Commonwealth. This is all Cia has ever wanted to do, so when she is chosen for the testing, she’s thrilled. Until her father tells her about some night terrors that have been plaguing him since his own testing, only he can’t remember exactly what happened because of some pesky erased memories. His main advice is to trust no one, which is pretty good advice becuase Cia’s fellow testing candidates are the worst kind of academic brats, and the tests themselves are designed to kill you if you fail, so basically they are like the SAT but SO MUCH WORSE. Naturally, Cia starts to question everything she ever believed while making out with the dimpled dreamboat from home. It’s shocking, I know.

So, why the hell did I read this book? Well, I run a book club for my seventh and eighth graders. It’s an open book club so any old Tom, Dick, or Harry can join, but I usually get the same tween girls. I’m not complaining – they are LOVELY – but I immediately regretted my decision to hand over the book choosing power to them when they chose this as our next book to read together. And yes, it was horribly derivative – kind of like The Hunger Games, only…academic? Until the field test, and then it’s totally Hunger Games. I could spend a lot of time listing all the different minute details that the two share, but I won’t, because that’s boring. Just suffice to say there are a lot.

HOWEVER. All that aside, I actually kind of enjoyed this book. I mean, I loved The Hunger Games, and this was really, really similar and wasn’t terribly written so sure, I ripped through it. Did I ever actually truly care about any of the characters? Not particularly. They had about as much dimension and flavor as a piece of cardboard, so even though I was interested in the events that were unfolding, I was never actually concerned about anyone’s well-being. The writing was, likewise, pretty bland. However, the story is fun, and that was enough for me to actually finish the book.

So, if I was so completely ambivalent about this book, why did all my girls lose their damn minds over how “amazing” it was? I mean, yeah – it’s a dystopia, and they will basically read any dystop-ish fiction with a dash of romance (P.S. The romance in this one – a forced, chemistry-less snoozeville). It never ceases to amaze me how they can get just as excited about every single dystopia they read, even though they’re essentially reading the same book over and over again, just with a different horrific vision for the future. They all have a female protagonist who is just so special that she can find a way to break the system. While wearing a tunic, of course. It’s probably the same reason a lot of genre readers will read the same formula over and over again until they die – there is comfort in patterns repeating themselves. I just can’t get truly excited about a book unless it is unique or weird or beautifully written or any combination of those three things. I mean, there are a lot of other things that make me excited about a book, but I usually don’t get my pants blown off unless it’s truly different from anything I’ve ever read before in some way, shape, or form.

Basically what I’m trying to say is, I wish my fourteen year old girls could be a bit more punk with their reading habits.

In closing, my song for this book is Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face” because so many people seemed to lose their eyes in this book, so kind of opposite of the song title. Am I sick? Duh.


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