Monday, July 15, 2013

The Testing, Joelle Charbonneau

This is the book selection for my book club in August. Another fairly quick read at 325 pages and a teaser of Chapter 1 of the 2nd book. No, I did not know this was a series when I picked it up.

Very reminiscent of The Hunger Games but with a twist that makes it slightly more believable. Malencia (Cia) Vale lives in the Five Lakes Colony (formerly the Great Lakes) which is probably one of the smallest Colonies that make up the United Commonwealth. After the 7 Stages of War-the first Four of which man attacked man with all manner of a physical and biological weaponry, and the last Three in which many of the man made attacks triggered the Earth to "retaliate" with subsequent earthquakes, wind storms, tornadoes, etc. leaving the Earth largely barron between biologically engineered toxins and poisons to radiation. Many animals, plants and even some humans who were able to survive the radiation were permanently altered genetically. Perhaps a small field mouse now has claws and teeth that are now venomous and has no fear of people and would attack a person with no provocation. New biology engineering must happen in order to breed new crops resilient in nutrient sparse soil and to increase the nutrients in the soil as well. Much technology was lost, though I don't think as much as they let on.

In order to get the best and brightest in the areas of studies needed most to revitalize the land, the people and the government, some of the top students of each graduating class in each colony are invited to the capitol, Tosu City (I never quite figured out exactly where that was, although many other landmarks were mentioned, I didn't pay enough attention to pinpoint it) where they have been selected to be Tested in order to see if they will qualify to continue on past what we would consider a high school education. Anyone who is not selected will enter into adulthood (at around 16 or 17 years old) and pursue a career path that will help their colony thrive. Successful Testing candidates will attend the University where their strengths will be evaluated and will be placed in the area of study they are best suited for and has the most need of their unique skills. They are the future leaders of the country.

Cia has always dreamed of being a Testing Candidate. It is considered an honor to be chosen, and your family even is granted a monetary stipend for not having you there to contribute anymore. Her father was a testing candidate, but no one has been chosen for Testing in the Five Lakes Colony for 10 years. No one knows exactly why, but with only around 900 citizens or so, it's largely assumed that Tosu City officials determining that Five Lakes can't afford to send any of its citizens away.

Then Cia gets chosen. That's not really a spoiler alert. Due to the title and main character, it's rather obvious that she's going to be there. But what happens when she gets there is what is going to horrify you. There are 5 stages of testing. 1 the written component. 2 the hands on component. 3 the teamwork/group component. 4 the practical application. 5 the interview. From a start of 187 testing candidates, 20 will enter the University. How on Earth do you narrow down 187 to 20? That's what no one knows. The 20 who make it have absolutely no recollection of the testing process-which is to ensure confidentiality so that no future testing candidates will have an edge over anyone else.

You will come to really like Cia. I didn't get as emotionally attached to her as I did Katniss, but she certainly is likable  There's a little bit of a romance, a seeming attempt from another character to get a triangle going, but it never surfaces. Like Divergent, you are not quite sure who you trust. And Cia's father has said "trust no one".

So think Hunger Games type brutality, except NO ONE KNOWS what's going on except for Testing Officials and obviously the government. NO ONE suspects a thing. It isn't an overt lesson year after year proving the government's power by forcing you to watch children you know fight to the death. Families know that once you go to Tosu for the testing, you will probably never return home because you will be reassigned to another colony where your skills are needed. And because of the lack of ability to communicate long distances from the loss of technology, there's really no reason to believe that a lack of contact means anything else.

That's what makes it a bit more believable. If any 1st world country were to do anything shady, they sure as heck are not going to broadcast it across screens and parade it in front of the world. If anything seriously wrong is happening, it's going to be well hidden and drenched in secrecy. A wolf in sheep's clothing of biggest proportions.

I am anxious for book 2 which comes out this fall "Independent Study" if for no other reason than I want to see if Cia will succeed to have her upbringing and personal moral compass find a way to combat this secretive government to take all the good and leave the bad.

One of the biggest discussions from this book is "What makes a good leader?" There are references to needing to know when to fight and when to talk, how one of the faults of the last American President was that he was not willing to fight but attempted to talk it out with other countries bent on killing (ironically it was the Middle Eastern Coalition who first take out Washington DC and Boston followed by the Asian Alliance taking out Chicago). There's also discussion on how a leader should trust or not trust other people and how to tell who they should trust-and how to trust their own instincts and their own gut. And a good leader must know when to stop. A good leader would make mistakes-because we all do-but what separates a good leader from a bad one is that a good one would learn from those mistakes and never repeat them. They would admit to making a mistake and go in a different direction-no matter what it took or what others thought of them. They would do the right thing-to the best of their knowledge-with little regard to "popularity". The book doesn't come out and state that last one, but I felt it was heavily implied, since Cia makes a lot of choices that she thinks are making her look weak but when someone else talks to her about it she realizes the perception of others saw strength. And as chapter 1 of the second book in the sneak peak says "Thinking something is true doesn't make it so. Perceptions is almost as important as reality." and a good leader would know how to use both to their advantage.

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