The Story: From the backcover of my book: “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 has been dreaming of being chosen for The Testing and going to University, just like her father, her whole life. But when this dream is made a reality, her father’s chilling parting advice to trust no one is the first reveal that nothing is as it seems. Cia won’t only be competing for a spot in the university, but for her life.
What Wallace and I Think: The Testing is largely a paint-by-numbers YA dystopian novel that has striking similarities to The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner. It has all the characteristics that are quickly becoming the markers of this genre: set in post-apocalyptic America (and spends some time in Chicago, which some of the other books I mentioned do, weird coincidence); society is divided into factions/districts/colonies and are characterized by what they produce; the main character(s) is separated from their family; there is a romance with a childhood friend, and this romance puts the main character in danger; a forced love triangle; a token “dark-skinned” character that is killed off early in the series; and a corrupted government running whatever trials/tests/games the teenage character(s) must navigate.
However, what separates The Testing from other series is the potential relatability to readers. Yes, the final round of tests are eerily similar to the actual Hunger Games, but the first round of tests the university hopefuls must go through include four-four hour written tests on History, Math, Science and English. Sound familiar? These tests may seem tame compared to the last test, in which hopeful students are more than happy to kill one another to improve their chances at earning a spot at the University, but Charbonneau captures the stress written tests can bring (one competitor commits suicide after the written tests). Charbonneau takes the anxiety finals bring, especially those finals that will determine whether you get the grades you need to move on to post-secondary education, and turns it into a series.
This is what I find original and interesting about the series. The novel raises questions regarding the usefulness and consequences of this sort of testing in our own world. Sure, students in reality aren’t killing one another off to get ahead, but it is well known and documented that student suicide rates, in high school and post-secondary, are highest in December and April: finals season (what is called Dead Week at some universities). In my current dorm room, the windows can only be opened a few inches, and housing states this is for students’ safety, which we students all know and interpret as “so students can’t jump out of the windows.” The issues Charbonneau tackles may be closer to actual challenges and obstacles readers will face when compared to the other series I mentioned. Why does this matter? If you’re feeling the stress that school can bring, reading a series like this may help you to feel that you’re not alone. The academic side of me would put it like this: if someone is dealing with depression, a book like this could be an excellent resource to safely explore and workthrough emotions difficult to express, while also offering an escape from reality.
So while I didn’t find the novel overtly original, found some of the writing clumsy, and characters other than Cia were flat and underdeveloped, it’s engagement with an important issue makes it a worthwhile read, and I will be definitely be reading the second book in the series because I am intrigued to find what the university environment will be like.
If you love series like The Hunger Games, Divergent and Maze Runner AND want to read something very similar, this is the new series for you. I’d love to hear what you think.
 Case in point: Rue, Alby and in this novel Malachi. This is a pet peeve of mine. I appreciate that the authors are trying to introduce a more diverse cast of characters, but having the majority of the population as white in a post-apocalyptic world isn’t only troubling, but having these “diverse” characters firmly placed in the background/killed off early doesn’t actual do much to change the absence of non-white characters in YA and children’s literature. See an excellent article by Christopher Myers that calls this the Apartheid of children’s literature here, and another by Walter Dean Myers here