Friday, 27 June 2014

Review of The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

Title: The Testing
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Release Date: August 1st 2013



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.

My Review

I want to start by saying that it has been a while since I read a dystopian fiction book.
After the hype of Hunger Games, YA dystopian books blew up in the world of Hollywood and the lives of readers everywhere. For a while, I was caught up in the whirlwind of books that was Divergent, Enders Game, The Maze Runner and every other book that is, in reality, just a variation on the same concept. I became quickly bored and thus moved into the world of paranormal romance, vampires, Gods and Goddesses, aliens, and of course, cheesy chick-lit.
However I have recently overwhelmed my brain with too much of the same and decided to read something else. Currently being in California, I have enjoyed being outside with my kindle and just binge-reading anything and everything I find that seems remotely interesting.
A few months ago I spent a fair amount of money on books (I will not say how much because although I loved getting all those new books, the number is slightly too large to be deemed appropriate to spend in one go), and in my one-click-spree I purchased a book called The Testing.
Being a dystopian book, I quickly put it on my "to read at a later date definitely not soon" pile along with the Legends series and Article 5. 

THAT was my first mistake.

So, in my binge-read fest I decided to try another dystopian book. "Maybe this one will prove me wrong" I thought.

Firstly, congratulations to Joelle Charbonneau for writing a book that instantly made my Top 3 books of ALL time, and secondly; THANK YOU for proving me wrong.
As soon as I started reading, I was hooked. I read the entire thing in one sitting, taking me just over 3 hours (my standard reading time if I am in love with the book). Once it was over, I had a serious lust and deep burning desire for the second book in the trilogy, Independent Study, and spent what little money I had on purchasing the sequel. I must say that I am pretty hard-up at the moment, however the book was so incredible that I couldn't imagine going another day let alone 3 weeks until I read it. 
Many of the quotes from reviews, articles and other bloggers stated that this is a must-read for fans of the Hunger Games, whilst others said things such as "Hunger Games meets Divergent in this fast-paced, thrilling story". That is true. If you enjoyed the Hunger Games, Divergent or any other dystopian book, the chances are you will like this novel too. If you didn't, you will probably still enjoy this book due to it's unbelievably genius writing, creativity and originality. 
This book is the best dystopian that I have ever read. It knocks the Hunger Games out of the park. There is no "hype" or build-up surrounding this book, meaning that I was able to form my own opinions without those of others clouding my judgement. 
It became clear quickly that Joelle Charbonneau was indeed influenced by the writings of Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth, as there were aspects of the Hunger Games within the book, set in the classic "dystopian" themed setting. The main character is a female, there is a love story but it is not the main aspect of the book, The Hunger Games districts are called the colonies - the students are brought to Tosu City for The Testing, the same way the Hunger Games competitors are brought to the Capitol, and ultimately you either succeed or you die.
However, for me, that is where I draw the line at similarities.
I loved that the protagonist of the story was female, similar to the HG and Divergent, however in both those books I connected more with the male characters than the females. I also find that in real life, I seem to make friends more easily with men than women. The Testing presented Cia in a way that made me want to be her friend. It made me want to be a better person, seek her approval and gain her trust. I have never before felt that in any book I have ever read, and thus instantly Charbonneau sets the stage for a flawless performance.
Similar to the Hunger Games, there was a love story that was prominent however it was not essential. I was expecting the "love triangle" - 2 boys after 1 girl, and was pleasantly surprised when this was not the case. There was absolutely no romance in the first half of the book, bar some mediocre flirting between Cia and Tomas, and when romance did develop, I had seen the characters relationships develop as friends who trust each other, into romance and finally love. These were characters who had not just met at the Testing, but had grown up as children, studied together, danced, been in the same classes and had always been "friendly" but had never realised the potential for more until they were sent together for the Testing. The way the love story develops instantly makes me like Charbonneau's writing, as it steps outside of the conventional box into a class all of its own.
Whether intended or not, Joelle Charbonneau's book also passed The Bechdel Test - normally used to rate films however I am applying it to a novel within this context (obviously). The Bechdel Test requires that two females must talk to each other about something OTHER than a boy/man. A lot of novels do pass this test, however only by a few lines. The Testing passes with flying colours! There are huge passages where Cia talks to her mother, Zandri, Annalise, Ryme and other female characters about education, hopes, dreams - nothing romantic or male orientated. 
My main love of this book is that the competition was intellectual. Smart people for the win! To me, High School and University has always felt a bit like a competition, however the consequences of The Testing are much more severe. One of my favourite quotes from the book is by Dr Barnes: "Wrong answers will be penalised". This could simply sound like marks would be deducted however when you read the book you quickly discover that they mean something far more sinister. Some people have said in their reviews that they believe Cia is too smart - I do not agree. She simply works hard but obviously had an originally high level of intellect and logic reasoning skills. There are many people similar to Cia's intellect within the real world, and I for one find it refreshing that a female character is portrayed in a book to be smarter than the men around her, despite how they may have been brought up. Hermione Granger is really the only other female character that I feel can match Cia's intellect, however she is the sidekick to Harry who always seems to get the credit, whilst Cia is permitted to work independently and prove her worth to everyone around her who may have underestimated her abilities.
This book also promoted the underdogs - Cia, a young, smart, independent female from a colony which is often overlooked is given the chance to prove herself in a battle of the wits with 108 other students. They are told early on that only 20 will progress to the University to study to become the future leaders of their country. Her father was one of those who passed his tests, however when Cia was chosen he informed her of the horrors he suspected took place when he was there - all memories are wiped clean following the testing. I loved watching Cia progress and evolve as a character, and show that just because she wasn't from a big city didn't mean that she wasn't as well educated or intellectually talented.
Cia quickly became one of my female characters of all time. I loved her genuine kind heartedness. There was no malicious intentions within any of her actions, despite the cruelty of those around her. She proves time after time that she was raised well and simply wanted to help others; that she did not seek leadership for the attention, but to change the world in a positive manner. Cia was also one of the few who did not lose herself or her values within the competition. When forced into dealing with unpleasant things that put her life in danger, Cia acted upon common sense and instinct won out, however Charbonneau managed to show Cia's guilt and pain at having to do things she never wanted to or believed herself capable of, and thus showed that Cia is only human, and flawed like the rest of us. 
Like I mentioned earlier, I want to strive to be more like Cia. Charbonneau does not focus at all on her looks, in fact I am not 100% certain what Cia actually looks like. It is more about her personality - her intellect, hard working nature with honest, genuine and kind intentions in all that she does. Within the book she alerts Brick, another character, to possible danger in the team working round. This was not something that she had to do, or was encouraged to do, however she obviously has a conscience and was not comfortable with the weight of someone's death on her shoulders, whether she was directly responsible for the consequences or not.
Cia is cunning and wise, without being bragging. To me, she is the definition of a character truly defined by inner beauty. 

I raise my glass and my literary praise to Joelle Charbonneau on creating the perfect representation of what a young woman in todays society should really be.