Oh, The Testing. You had so much potential.
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.
Early in the book, I felt fairly engaged in the story. Cia was nervous about her graduation day and was expressing the emotions and events of the day. I think, in hindsight, I might have noticed some of the strangely simplistic writing style, but was not too bothered by it. I think writing in such a way can sometimes help convey a certain tone.
But seriously, you can’t carry an entire young adult book in such a fashion. And what’s especially bad is when the writing style makes one feel so far removed of the story that is being told in first person and present tense. Here’s an example from chapter 6:
We sing favorite songs. Tomas and I perform a duet that we learned in school. The words speak of the hope of springtime and the world being born anew. Our two voices entwine and echo in the hall. The officials cleaning up after the meal stop and listen to us. When we go back to our rooms we all walk lighter. The lightness stays with me even as Ryme expresses relief that tomorrow’s exam will send people packing. And when I sleep with my bag tucked tight to my chest I spend the night free of dreams.
A summary of events like this is fine from time to time. But it keeps happening. From chapter 7:
Tomas is more than willing to leave his bench and take a look. Zandri and Malachi laugh at us as we poke around the pump, but after a while they fall into quiet conversation, leaving Tomas and me to our own devices.
Tomas thinks the problem might be the impeller. I guess the motor. We decide to remove the pump to find out who’s right. Tomas uses my knife to unscrew the pump from its base, and we head to the shore. A few minutes laterm we have the cover off and I give a shout of victory. The impeller is perfect. The motor has a loose connection. I tinker with it for a while and think I have the problem licked. Tomas puts the cover back on and installs the pump back in the pond. Minutes later, water shoots into the air, soaking us both.
We lie on the grass, letting the sun dry on our clothes, and I try to hang on the happiness I feel whenever I make something work.
Simple sentence structure. Summary of events. The lack of dialogue. It feels awfully distant. And boring. Perhaps it is all a matter of style. It just strikes me as odd, however, that the beginning of the story feels so distant, when towards the end, it finally starts to feel a little closer to the action and I start to actually feel some of Cia’s emotions.
I think Nikki of There Were Books Involved explained the tone for most of the book very well in her DNF Q&A of the book: “For some reason I found myself totally distanced from the story and feeling like there was very little emotion to it; Cia may have said she was feeling nervous/scared/relieved, but I never felt those emotions reflected in her actions or narration. And despite the book being in the present tense, I didn’t feel like Cia was telling us about these events and her feelings as she experienced them – her clinical tone felt oddly distanced from the present tense narrative. It ended up coming across as emotionless, to me. I also found Cia’s tendency to describe conversations (rather than actually include dialog) a little odd.”
I kept reading, however, because I bought the book, and also because I really wanted to believe that it got better. Unfortunately, it got worse before it got better, but it did get better eventually.
One of the tests involves the testers being dumped off 700 miles from Tosu City (the Capitol city, where they are doing the testing) and they have to find their way back. They are not told to kill other contestants, but they have the option of taking weapons and they have the option to kill if they wish. This felt ripped off from The Hunger Games as it really didn’t make sense in the context of the book. Unlike The Hunger Games, however, most of this portion of the book was pretty boring.
Towards the end of this test I was finally interested in what would happen. After the testing is over it’s a little hit or miss, but the ending did actually left me thinking about maybe reading the next book, after being convinced for the vast majority of it that I would not be doing so.
As far as characters go, I liked Cia well enough. She’s no Katniss, but I didn’t find her unlikable. I didn’t love her love interest Tomas, however. He seemed bland on the surface, and then I hate that as she is telling herself she is not sure she can trust him, she’s still like, “Oh well, I’ll kiss him!” Meh.
I give the vast majority of the book a 2, but towards the end it creeps up to more of a 3. So ultimately, it seems fair to settle at 2.5 stars.
Thanks to Alice in Readerland‘s recent review with sleepy kitty GIFs, I was inspired to add my own to this review. 🙂
Some mild language, no sexual content (other than a steamy kiss and a mentioned desire for “more), some violence.