Sunday, April 5, 2015

Review: The Testing Series by Joelle Charbonneau

[Warning: Spoilers Ahead]

I have to admit, I’m a sucker for books having to do with tests or unconventional schools (The Mysterious Benedict Society, for example). I love to imagine how well I would do if I were in the same situation as the characters. But although this genre of books usually captures my attention, The Testing series did not. The books weren’t terrible, but overall they felt rather bland and stereotypical, from the characters and the setting to the plot itself.

In a day and age when dystopian trilogies abound, a book series in this category must have a thrillingly unique twist in order to stand out in my mind, but reading The Testing felt like one long stint of déjà-vu. During one section of the Testing process, the main character, Cia, and her love interest, Tomas, must survive in the wilderness while traveling toward a specific destination. During this test, all participants are allowed and even somewhat encouraged to eliminate the other contestants. If that doesn’t scream Hunger Games, I don’t know what does. On top of that, the whole idea of having to endure a rigorous “initiation” process, in which many participants die, is very reminiscent of Divergent. It felt like the entire series was simply reusing traditional YA dystopian trilogy plot points.

Even the characters felt very typical, and the sheer number of characters introduced throughout the series often left me confused as to what was going on. Part of the problem was that many characters were left behind in each stage of the Testing and subsequent levels of education, which meant I only had a short  amount of time to get to know each character before they disappeared. Then new characters appeared, leaving me constantly focused on remembering who was who instead of absorbing the plot. Granted, I did read the books with weeks in between, but a truly great book series will leave such a distinct impression that you will have no trouble picking up the pieces after a time spent apart.

My last main issue with the book was the muddled message of the book. Maybe the author had no intention of including a message in her books, but there did seem to be a theme of “do the ends justify the means” throughout. For example, Cia finds the Testing process to be horribly inhumane as the punishment for a wrong answer is usually death. But the government leaders argue that it eliminates the weak and the incapable, leaving only those who are able to make the tough calls to become the next leaders. And this seems to have worked thus far, as the United Commonwealth has been relatively stable for the past few years, with revitalization efforts making great progress. So here the questions is asked: do the positive results of the Testing justify its horrible methods? Cia doesn’t believe so, and as the series progresses, it seems to be building to a point where Cia firmly decides that the ends do not justify the means. When Cia sets out on President Collindar’s mission to kill her opponents, I fully expected that she would decide killing wasn’t the answer and that she would find another way to remove the Testing. But in the end, she goes through with it (except in the case of Dr. Barnes, who administers the Testing) and seems to agree with President Collindar’s idea that sometimes it’s okay for leaders to kill their opponents if it means avoiding a greater evil. This ending sentiment didn’t feel consistent with the rest of the books.

But on the bright side, the plot did a lot of good twists (although I anticipated quite a few of them), and I was never bored while reading it. So while I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it either, and would recommend it to those who are experiencing Hunger Games/Divergent withdrawal.

Now I’m going to do a breakdown of each element of the series, judging it on different criteria. I’ll rate each element on a scale of 1-5, 1 being bad, and 5 being amazing.

Plot: 3

Complexity: 4

Creativity: 1

Believability: 4

Surprise: 2

Characters: 3

Depth: 3

Personality: 3

Believability: 3

Writing Style: 3

Description: 2

Tension: 4

Overall Score: 3

Happy Reading!


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