This book has been out for two years now, and I’ve been putting it off for just as long. Mostly because the whole post-apocalyptic/dystopian genre has been SO overdone that I really didn’t want to read yet another one.
Then we scheduled Joelle Charbonneau to come to the Kansas bookstore where I work — they’ve been working on it since the first one came out and the rep mentioned it was set in a futuristic Wichita — and I was tasked with reading and reviewing the book before she gets here. And so I did, smacking myself when I finished for waiting too long to get around to this one.
Sixteen-year-old Cia Vale has just graduated from her colony’s small school near the top of her class. She’s excited: in this post-Seven Stages War America, now called the United Commonwealth, that means she’s likely to be chosen to attend The Testing in the capitol, Tosu City (aka Wichita, though it took me nearly the whole book to figure that out). Except her father — a former Testing candidate and University graduate himself — doesn’t want her to go. However, once Cia’s been chosen, she can’t say no; refusing the Testing is an act of treason, punishable by death.
So, Cia travels to Tosu City with her father’s warning — TRUST NO ONE — echoing in her ears and discovers what he meant. The Testing is not just high-pressure and high-competition for the 20 university slots. It’s deadly.
While the plotting and writing isn’t as tight as Suzanne Collins’, it’s still a quick, engaging read. Charbonneau sets the stakes high right away, with Cia’s roommate committing suicide, and doesn’t let up until the final pages of the book. There are twists and turns — some of which I saw coming, some of which I didn’t — and Cia is a good, strong narrator to carry this story on her shoulders. It’s definitely post-apocalyptic; Charbonneau cleverly gives us a brief history of how this country came to be in a series of short written test questions early on. The dystopian part is harder to see — Cia comes to hate the Testing officials, and the government as an extension, but I’m not sure I ever felt the way she did about the officials. Unlike, say, President Snow in The Hunger Games. (Yes, comparisons are inevitable.) I do think, on the other hand, that it’s a tighter, more interesting story than Divergent (yes, there’s a love interest, which I think was mostly unnecessary).
But the best thing about waiting to read this one is that the whole series is out already. And I don’t have to wait to read the second one. And I’m invested enough in Cia’s story that I’m quite curious to find out what happens next.
Rated: Moderate for younger readers. It’s a mild for adults. It’s violent, but not graphically so. And there’s kissing, but no sex. Which means it’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore. However, much like Hunger Games, I’d be wary of more sensitive readers trying it.