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Confessions of a Bibliophile

An aspiring writer and bookstore employee with an incredibly bad book-buying habit... I'll read just about anything (so long as it will appeal to my interests in some way), but my main loves are YA and sci-fi/fantasy. I also like quirky history and science books and will book nerd. A lot. Currently in the process of weeding out my personal library. Find me on Twitter @princess_starr or check out my YA book, Snowfall, on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/240027

The Testing

The Testing - Joelle Charbonneau I need to start out by saying, guys I really did try to look at this optimistically. After the first two books I read for my job’s Best of the Year lists, I was looking forward to this one. And considering that my first inclination towards The Testing was that “Oh, look another YA dystopia that misses the point of The Hunger Games and is just a romance in a oppressive setting.” I’m not very happy to find out that my first inclination was right. (Additionally, I know that I normally like to wait a day or two before writing/posting a review after finishing a book so I can gestate; however, I knew early on what my biggest issues were and what I wanted to say here.) Here’s the thing: if it wasn’t for the second half of the book, I would have liked this. I did like the first half of the Testing process in this book. It’s basically the standardized testing and problem-solving except for the fact that if you fuck up, you will die. You don’t get a warning, make one mistake and that’s it. The scene where the Test candidates are putting together the radio boxes and one of them gets a NAIL IN THE EYE was actually really well done. (Unfortunately, now that I realize it, the only really good scene in this whole book.) I was looking forward to reading more of this, and everything comes to a screeching halt when the fourth Test starts. This is why we’re seeing the same thing happen with YA dystopias as with YA paranormals a few years ago: retreading the same ground over and over again. If you can give me an interesting premise that involves teens killing each other, great. Awesome. Sell me on it. If your YA dystopia has a death match because well, look at Suzanne Collins! I am going to turn around so fast without giving your book a chance. If there’s no logical reason to have the death match, then don’t put it in. Do something different. There’s a reason I tell people to go read Scott Westerfeld after finishing The Hunger Games because “Okay, you liked that? HERE, HAVE A TALLY AND A SHAY.”And my big disappointment with The Testing is that while I was reading it, I thought that this could go extremely psychological. You’ve got a questionable government that’s already altering young impressionable minds, why not go the route of the Milgrim experiment? Or Stanford Prison? I personally think those would be a better test of who’s suitable for this government instead of putting the kids into a death race. Jumping off from there, Charbonneau opens up a massive plot hole in the first handful of pages. We learn very early on that Cia’s father was a successful Testing candidate, and he gives her pointers. Said pointers basically amount to “So if you pass, all of your memories of the Test are repressed. Btw me and some of the other survivors think the government’s corrupt.”*headdesk*This is another thing that needs. To. Stop. Again, have the rebellion, have the heroine figurehead, I’m fine with that. DON’T BRING IT UP IN THE FIRST FIVE CHAPTERS. The whole point of a dystopia is that it’s supposed to LOOK utopian and perfect. (The one series aside; look, there’s going to be a lot of comparisons to Hunger Games, I’m sorry.) If there’s a bunch of people already questioning the government that the heroine knows in the beginning, then the oppressive government doesn’t scare me. And again, GLARING PLOT HOLE. If this government can erase memories and is aware that’s there a rebellious faction, why the hell are they not mentally conditioning every single Testing candidate to be loyal and obedient to them? That would make me afraid! If you’re just repressing the memories of said candidates (additionally makes no sense; how is anyone supposed to apply what they’ve learned), then people are—and have—figured out something’s up. Hypnotic drugs, brainwashing, backmasking—there’s a whole world out of psychological fuckery out there to use. I would have taken brainwashing over this. (Again, one of the reasons why I really like Uglies; by the end of that series, Tally’s brain has been so messed with that when she fights back, everyone is fucked.) By also having Cia know early on that there’s something going on, it doesn’t develop her character. It only allows her to move from point A to B to C until she needs to do something. The discovery of the recorder at the end is an asspull; it reads like “Oh, she’s going to have her memory wiped in two pages! Um, SECRET RECORDER! We have to end this on a cliffhanger!” Don’t dress it up that she was actually worried about losing her memories—if she was, why wasn’t she keeping a secret diary or something? And let’s talk about Cia, shall we? Cia is the other reason I knocked this down to two stars, along with the whole second half of the book. There’s nothing to her character that endears me to her, aside from the handful of Testing scenes in the first half. She’s a bland, faceless heroine who tries to prove that she’s badass and brave and caring because she can shoot a bad guy to save her love interest’s life. Also not endearing me to her?Once again, I am grateful for my broken-in boots. Most girls will need to exchange their fashionable footwear for something they can hike in. [pg 137-138]At which point I actually said, “Fuck off, snowflake.” Apparently Cia is the only tomboyish girl in the post-apocalypse; ergo, she is even more super-special. (Because, you know, getting the chance to go a fashionable big city isn’t worth making a good impression on. All those girls in their nice dresses are vapid bitches who are waiting to turn on Cia. I'm sure they all got a helpful info-dump about the corrupt government.) I don’t care if she likes wearing comfortable, practical clothing and I also really don’t care if she doesn’t like wearing dresses. What bothers me is that I hear about this before Cia’s supposed skills with engineering. Again, this something I see over and over again—the first thing we see is the main character dressing up for her special adulthood day. Show me Cia tinkering with something in her fancy dress. Show me her squeeing over technology. Because when I read Cia mentally whining about “Omg this dress is so uncomfortable but I haaaaave to wear it,” my mental soundtrack is already queuing up Taylor Swift.The other elements of this book are just bland and boring. I don’t care about Tomas, and yes, before you ask, there’s a fucking love triangle. (A really stupid one to boot, as there’s no chemistry or build-up to Will’s character at all. Amongst other problems.) A lot of the reason I disliked the ending so much is that Cia suddenly feels sorry that so many people have died, but we never get to know anyone beyond Tomas. I don’t feel sorry that anyone’s died. Not even the people Cia does interact with for more than three pages. Aspiring YA dystopia authors, my message is this: Yes, death matches can work. But please, please don’t give me a death match because that’s what Suzanne Collins did. (Insert my rant of “You know that’s not what The Hunger Games is about, right?” here.) If you have an interesting idea, run with it. Work on it. Do something different. Because, it’s books like these that illustrate the catch-22 of “Oh, agents and publishers say they want something different; here, have another *flavor of the month* rip-off.” There’s a wealth of possibilities to explore out there, and even just doing something a little different can mean a whole lot to a reader.