Book Review – The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

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Title: The Testing
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Age Range: 12 and up
Grade Level: 7 and up
Series: The Testing
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (June 4, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0547959109
ISBN-13: 978-0547959108
Goodreads: 3.95/5 stars

***WARNING*** There is one spoiler, but I point it out just like this, so you should be able to skip over it if you wish. ***WARNING OVER***

I purchased this book at Barnes and Noble

Book blurb as seen on

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

*sigh* If you check out THE TESTING on B&N, you’ll scroll down into oblivion with all the positive critiques, publisher credits and accolades about this book. I know those are designed to sell books, and they aren’t going to give you the negative reviews, but still, it makes me wonder if I’ve been so spoiled by good writing (Rowling, Collins, Lowry, Stiefvater, Green and many more) that I’ve become too critical to enjoy anything that doesn’t measure up.

This here, started out as a rant on how teens need well-written books, but I backspaced it all. I’ll save it for a not-so-far-in-the-future post. Like maybe the next thing I write. Suffice it to say that Ms. Charbonneau could learn a lot from the many Show-Don’t-Tell articles I have pinned to my Pinterest board, The Business of Writing.

The characters were interesting, though there were a lot of them. Too many to fully develop and the attention given to those who did receive character development consisted of things like the character(author) telling us things like I was raised to do this . . . or in my Colony we believe this . . . or in another place the character thinks something along the lines of Tomas is always helpful and kind. He’s never encountered anything else. I’m totally paraphrasing because I didn’t take the time to write things down as I read. I’ll work on that for next time. Point is, the author told us things about the character instead of letting us see their traits through their actions. She didn’t trust us to be smart enough or intuitive enough to see for ourselves. I bet you thought my rant was over. You’re probably in for some more.

I liked Cia and Tomas, the main characters, and there’s no love triangle so that should please those of you who are fed up with love-geometry. Cia is smart, driven and resourceful. I enjoy her going from a wide-eyed girl who sees her world as a good place and wants nothing more than to attend the University, to a young woman who trusts no one but a handful of people and who wants nothing more than to protect her family and friends. Tomas is more interesting in my opinion, because though he is pretty bland as a character, we don’t see the story through his view point and there is an unsolved mystery by the end of the book that brings his character into question. It leaves you wondering what happened, and wanting to know the story through Tomas so we can see what he sees.

As far as the other characters, I’m hoping Cia’s brother, Zeen, plays a bigger role later on, and I’m interested to see what happens with Will. I don’t want to give anything away, but Will has a story I care to hear. Okay, I can’t help it, here’s a spoiler, so don’t read if you don’t want me to give it away ***SPOILER*** Will seems like a really great guy, but turns out to have an evil streak. Still, he can be slightly redeeming and you can almost understand his motivation. Since his memory is wiped of everything he does, he still thinks he’s a good guy. It’ll be fun to see where Charbonneau takes that plot thread, ***SPOILER OVER***

Plot is were this book is strong. Cia must pass The Testing in order to advance to the University. It means financial advantage for her family, though that’s not a drive for her. Mostly it’s about pride in herself, making others proud of her, and her quest for knowledge. Really, Cia is a bit selfish if you think about it. Not in a bad way, but her reasons are a bit more shallow than the kids whose families are starving back home. They’ve worked hard to get selected, not because of vanity, but because of the difference it can make for those they love. Unfortunately, getting selected means possibly never seeing your family again.

What Cia doesn’t know is that the tests are mentally brutal at first, and physically so later on. Failure can mean death or leaving the Testing, and Cia suspects those that leave are permanently disposed of. Not only does she have to do her best to survive, but she has to watch out for her fellow Testing candidates, including some who will do anything to succeed. Almost the entire last half of the book is a action-packed fight for survival that keeps you turning page after page. The stark, harsh world Cia must travel through, badly damaged by many years of war and ravage, presents many challenges in the form of mutated animals, lack of water, dangerous Testing candidates and encounters with mutated humans as well. It’s frightening and not at all unimaginable in the dystopian world Charbonneau creates.

As I said before, there is no love triangle, and the romance aspect is pretty subdued. Cia and Tomas have known each other their whole lives, and they have had previous missed opportunities to explore their connection, but like true-to-life young people, they haven’t always taken the initiative. Their affection and relationship grows naturally and even though Tomas’s integrity is questioned in the end, you are still rooting for them. Though the emotional connection could have been better written, it was at least satisfying in leaving out insta-love, one-true-love and love triangle issues, giving us a couple whose relationship is built on years pf getting to know each other, mutual respect, and affection not rooted in lusting after physical appearances.

THE TESTING calls into question what people will do to survive and succeed, and whether the ends justifies the means. In this, it’s much like The Hunger Games, pitting teenagers against each other in a death-duel to the finish line. It demonstrates what an autocratic society can do to ensure it’s own survival, even at the expense of the lives of children, and makes you think about what is right or wrong when you’re trying to protect the world from the dangers inflicted by the mistakes of past leaders. Charbonneau examines what qualities make up a leader—the good and the bad—and how people think differently about each of those qualities.

Once I got past the C+ writing (I’m being generous), I really enjoyed this book. The story line is captivating and I’m already reading the second book INDEPENDENT STUDY. Doesn’t look like Charbonneau took any writing classes between the two books, so we’ll see if the story carries me through. There’s also a novella THE TESTING GUIDE, but I think Charbonneau and HMH Books already has enough of my money, so I’ll hold off on the e-prequel. I’ll be sure to let everyone know how I feel about the second book soon.

My Review: 3/5 stars

Note: I know I said I wouldn’t be buying the e-prequel, but when I went to link it to this page for others to see I discovered it was free, so naturally, I downloaded it on my Kindle! I’ll give a quick review in conjunction with INDEPENDENT STUDY when I’ve finished.

Buy Independent Study: The Testing, Book 2 on

Buy The Testing Guide on

Coming June 17th, 2014 . . .

Buy Graduation Day (The Testing) on

4 thoughts on “Book Review – The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

  1. I really like these books compared to some others like the Divergent series, whose writing I think is much worse! I definitely understand your qualms though, I am currently reading a book thats writing is just a little bit off and I can be distracting. Looking forward to this series finale though, I’m pretty sure it comes out next month!


    • Even though I feel Roth could have written Divergent better, I still feel Charbonneau was worse, but we all have our own opinions. But regardless, YA audiences deserve good writing, plot, and character development. The more I study writing myself, and practice on a daily basis, I can see the “mistakes” some authors are making. I’m not saying I can write better, just that I can recognize when things are or aren’t done well. I’m about halfway through the second book and unfortunately it isn’t capturing my attention like the first. We’ll see how it goes. I like to keep an open mind. 🙂


      • Ya I had the same feeling about the second one. And I agree that YA still deserves good writing, but we all have different pet peeves. I don’t think Charbonneau’s series is doing too well in general though, these last two are being released within about 6 months of each other as opposed to the usual year.


  2. Pingback: Book Review – Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau with bonus e-prequel The Testing Guide | Jennifer Austin – Author

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