Suzy Wilson's review Apr 23, 2013 5 of 5 stars bookshelves: dystopia, strong-female-protagonist Read in April, 2013
I received a copy of this novel as an electronic Advance Reader Copy from NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin, in return for an honest review.
I liked it so much, when it came out in hardcover, I bought the book.
Honestly, I loved this book.
It is not difficult to see elements of other works in this novel. Like The Hunger Games and Divergent, The Testing is a post-apocalyptic dystopia - the world is rehabilitating, several generations after the bombs were dropped. Food is growing again; the water is being slowly cleaned and the badlands are being reclaimed from the radiation and mutations. Things are tough, but it is much better than it was.
Cia lives with her family in a small outpost, isolated from other communities. She lives in a large, apparently happy family invested in re-engineering order from the chaos. We pick up Cia's personal narrative at the point where she is about to graduate from high school. Bright, plucky and full of promise, Cia has hopes of following her father to University to continue and build on his legacy of research and service. However, places at the University are limited, and to gain entrance, suitable candidates are recruited from the various settlements to undergo the Testing - a series of entrance exams. Few from Cia's home community have been favoured with selection in recent years, and she is determined to break back amongst the chosen.
The novel follows Cia and three schoolmates chosen to represent their colony in the Testing. However, all is not as it seems. Cia's father, a graduate of the University, warns her on the eve of her departure, to trust no-one. Haunted still by nightmares, he shares with Cia what knowledge he retains of his own testing - including a warning that each successful candidate's memory is wiped at the end of their Testing. His fear is not of what he remembers, rather the nightmare of what he cannot. Like 1984's behindthink, it isn't what your conscious mind remembers that is the problem - it is the messages from the shadows that haunt your dreams.
Cia departs, and the Testing begins.
The story, while slow to start, gathers pace during the Testing. Like the candidates, I, as the reader, was shocked by the brutality of the Testing - not so much by the graphic descriptions of the challenges, but more the underlying horror of the choices and the realities experienced by the candidates. It isn't what Charbonneau draws for us with her words, rather what is left unspoken, unlit and subverted that speaks the loudest.
I found the novel compelling. The characters are finely drawn and complex. The world-building is achieved early and well, without superfluity. Cia is perhaps the only truly honest person in the book. Everyone else has something to hide. Cia's challenge is to learn to limit her trust in others, while remaining true to her own ideals, and staying alive. Without introducing too many spoilers, I really enjoyed the ending of the book. I think the unmasking of the final subterfuge is masterfully done and I can't wait to read the next instalment.