I'll just launch right in.
I had decent expectations for Joelle Charbonneau's The Testing. Admittedly, the back copy is not the best but what I liked about it is that I wasn't 100% of what was going to happen. I mean, I had an idea but the copy explains only part of the story, like good copy should.
As I started reading I couldn't immediately ell what I thought of it. It felt like it was trying to be The Hunger Games but coming off, feeling-wise, much more like the first in Condie's Matched series (it's the only of the trilogy I have gotten to just yet). As the book continued it definitely embraced a darker tone but somehow the weight of what was happening never settled on me.
Terrible things happened to Cia and their society is definitely twisted and she witnesses such horrors during the 4th test but the real significance of what these horrors mean never gets the chance to sink in. As soon as one revelation is made it's mentioned, it's considered for a half a page or so and then something else happens to take your attention. That should be the perfect equation for a page turner but somehow the ideas are never fully realized.
I know that this is the first in the trilogy and that it wouldn't make sense to tell us everything. But I don't really feel like I got quite enough, like Charbonneau didn't tell me enough to keep me dwelling on the questions that she raised. Maybe I've become jaded after so many books in this genre but the inactivity of the testers and the traps set by them didn't shock me. I didn't feel what Cia felt. I wasn't horrified because I wasn't given much to be horrified by. And I think this is where the inevitable comparison to The Hunger Games becomes a major detriment.
In The Hunger Games Katniss know exactly what sort of society she lives in. She knows what she's getting herself into. In The Testing Cia learns but doesn't see any of it until she is thrown into the testing. The ruthlessness is new to her in a way that it isn't to Katniss. I had to remind myself too many times of this. I would fault my own inability to separate them but I feel like The Testing is set up to be compared. The similarities are too prominent and too highlighted to be ignored.
Cia. My biggest issue with Cia is that she's just too good at everything. Charbonneau set it up so that Cia's big failing is that she is too trusting but that's it. She doesn't have enough depth as a character. She picks exactly what she needs and knows exactly what Tomas would pick. She always finds water and food before either become a problem. She gets injured but always wins. It's all a little convenient. I never really felt like she was struggling. I never worried about her. She's too well rounded.
Tomas. I didn't really love him or hate him. He's really sort of bland. The spark of interest that we get lies in his mysterious night with Will. And while we were given a major clue to that that's been shoved off for a later book. There are hints at the end that he didn't lose him memory like Cia did and I am a little curious to see if that's true.
Oddly, I think one of the most interesting characters in this book was Will. He's more faceted than either Cia or Tomas. He's clever and calculating and has depth. I think the really intriguing thing to see is how he brings that out of the other characters. Tomas is interesting when he interacts with Will. Cia faces herself and shoots him. He's a catalyst character.
Overall, I thought the book was okay. I am a little interested in continuing with the series but I won't rush out to get it. A library book, likely. It just hasn't come together quite right yet but maybe enough of the riddles will be solved in the second book to make it interesting.
I give The Testing a rating of: Sort-of Epic.
I'm curious to see what other people think. I think anyone who is looking for something that almost is The Hunger Games they'll be interested. But I've read better, more interesting dystopians, I'll recommend first.