Book Review: The Testing Series by Joelle Charbonneau

Apologies again for the slight delay. I finished this series last week while I was on my business trip, so I’ve known that I was going to write about it, but well…I think because I didn’t like it (!), I didn’t want to write about it. Sigh. It’s not that I didn’t like it, but…well, you’ll see in my analysis below.

Plot (spoilers!): 

The Testing Series is broken up into three books: The Testing, Independent Study, and Graduation Day. I wouldn’t be surprised to see there be more of them though, perhaps as another trilogy. The Testing  begins with Melencia (Cia) Vale at her graduation from high school as she joins the “adult world” of her community, with a special day of recognition and where someone from the United Commonwealth Government, located in Wichita  Tosu City, will come and whisk them off to the Testing. Cia’s father – a great revitalizer of her colony, Seven Lakes – did the Testing when he was her age. Her brother’s – though incredibly smart – were not chosen; nor was anyone from her colony in the past decade. You think Cia isn’t chosen, but surprise! (duh) the United Commonwealth official just had a break down and was late by a day. The next day, she’s whisked off with three other Seven Lake’s students to take part in the Testing, including her crush, Tomas. They each have bracelet’s with different symbols on them that mean what they excel in + their own unique symbol.

At first, things seem fine, but Cia got ominous warnings from her Father about how he didn’t want her to go because he had terrible nightmares of people dying from when he was in the Testing, but he can’t fully remember if it’s real or not. The United Commonwealth official, Michel, that came and picked them off, warned her to always keep her bag with her. She meets the other colony students, and some are cutthroat, as her father warned.

They begin the Testing with phase 1, a series of written tests over two days. They are grueling, and no one seems to finish them – Cia doesn’t finish one – though Cia’s roommate belittles her for not finishing. Cia snides back at her, knowing that she’s faking finishing them, and strides off to dinner. After dinner, Cia is called out and taken to her room where her roommate, Rhym, has committed suicide. This doesn’t surprise the Testing officials. In fact, they say that it’s for the best, since it meant she wouldn’t have been able to be a leader, which is what the Testing is meant to find: the next generation of leaders and scientists. The second round begins and things clearly start to become sinister. During one of the rounds, students are told to eat the plants that they had picked out to be non-poisonous; one of the students, another student from Five Lakes, is shot in the eye with a nail as he does the next round, affected by the poison he ate and hitting the wrong part of the box. Cia runs over to him, but the Testing officials just let him die. No one else dies in her class that day, but they call out students who feel they might be weakened to come for help after the round is completed. Those students never return. Round Three is a group test, where they are assigned problems to complete; but a question can only be completed once, and should you try to answer a question some else already answered, you’ll face punishment. Cia knows this means you’ll die. Everything seems to be okay with her group, but when one of the students, Roman, enters and takes really long time finishing his, followed by the smartest girl in their group, Annalise, Cia realizes that Roman has set them up to fail: he’s completed all of the problems, and now Annalise has been eliminated. She tells her remaining partner, Brick, not to finish the test, but to just walk out; but he’d have to trust her over Roman to believe this. She does that – just walks out without answering anything – and is rewarded. Roman had done what she thought he did. She sees Brick awhile later and knows he did the same as her.

Round Four, the final test, throws the students into the wild near Chicago, and they are told to make it back to Tosu City fastest. Cia meets up with Tomas at the beginning, but she’s shot at by another candidate with a bow and arrow. Cia has a gun, but doesn’t hit the person. She also has a compass, Tomas has a map, she has a first aid kit and a water cleaning kit. They survive fine, meeting some others along the way, when they meet Will. Cia scouts ahead for water, leaving Will and Tomas alone (Tomas doesn’t trust Will). There she meets this human-like figure who attacks her, scratching her shoulder with poison claws, but she kills him and a few others like him. She finds Tomas and Will again, and something clearly happened but he won’t say what. They separate from Will and end up through this maze, where Cia sees these human-like figures again. They don’t attack her, just follow her, but Brick starts shooting them all with a machine gun. Cia is horrified and tries to get Brick to stop, but he sees them as monsters. They make it out, but Cia is severely poisoned from her scratches. She extracts the poison from herself, but then they are attacked by Roman not very far from the finish line. Roman is about to kill Tomas when Will kills him. Will then shoots Tomas in the stomach, and it turns out that he was the person trying to kill off other colony students. He had to win, since the Testing had taken away his twin brother and he wanted to win above all else. He’s about to shoot Cia when she shoots him back, hitting him in the leg. He runs off, and Cia drags Tomas to the finish line.

I forgot: during the round, Cia had spoken with someone outside the “lines” that were set up, who offered her food and clean water, along with a vial of a drug that will prevent her from telling the whole truth during the interview. The interview comes, and Cia hides her feelings about Tomas (they had both said I love you during the fourth round) so they don’t think her week. Tomas had taken some drugs that would help him not forget his memories, which he was supposed to give to Cia but forgot. Will, Cia, and Tomas all pass and are allowed into The University.

Independent Study is about their first couple months at the University, where all the students are in Early Studies together, where they’ll take basic courses before taking a massive exam that will choose where they go next. Cia wants to do Mechanical Engineering, as she loves technology and machines. Cia has found her recording she created before she took the memory pill and is horrified by what she heard about the Testing and all the deaths. Except she doesn’t actually remember them, so she’s trying to figure out what is true or not. Cia takes her exam and is placed in Government: her least favorite of the subjects she wanted to study. One student didn’t pass the exam and get placed anywhere. He is “Redirected” and Cia sees them carrying his body into a car later that day when she follows him. She figures out Redirected means death.

There she meets the Tosu City students – about 22 of them – that have also been chosen to be part of the Government Studies program. It turns out that the Tosu City students do not have to go through a Testing. Only four colony students have made it into Government Studies, including Will. It turns out there will be an Induction ceremony – like a hazing ritual. The tasks are simple, and will have a judgment on where they will be placed during their internships. Cia comes in third in the first task and second in the second (I think?) and then there’s something similar to the 4th round of the first book, where they are sent away from campus and told to return. Cia saves this kid on her team, Damien, from a giant snake. They then have to put someone in a box – Cia – while the other’s solve problems, otherwise she’ll suffocate. Cia believes they’ve left her there to die because she knows they finished; turns out that Damien wanted to leave her but not the others. They then head back, where Cia figures out that the last portion is not meant to be completed. She’s right (of course), and her group finishes first.

Cia is assigned nine courses – the closest student to her has only seven courses, with the average of five. She does fine in them all. Then she’s assigned an internship with the President, which has never happened before.

Honestly, I can’t quite remember where Independent Study and Gradaution Day end, so let’s go from here.

Cia is told by the President that she wants to end the Testing, but the head of the University, Dr. Barnes, has too much power and must be eliminated. And Cia is the only one who will be able to do that. Cia struggles with this: can she kill people – even if they are evil? She decides, yes, and begins constructing a team to help her. Tomas – obviously – and Stacia, another colony student. Then she wants Enzo (a Tosu City student who is poorer and was on her team during the Induction). This other student named Raffe she thinks is on her side. He’s from Tosu City and his Dad runs the Education Department, but he keeps telling her to trust him. Turns out, his sister was sent to the University but failed out and he’s never seen her since. He wants to know what happened to her, but Cia thinks she’s dead.

It turns out that there’s a rebellion stirring outside of town that is going to attack soon. Cia’s brother, Zaff, is part of this, when he learned about the Testing and wanted to save Cia. The rebels are willing to take out anyone they think will stop them, as they almost kill Cia and Tomas – but are killed in self-defense instead. Cia knows that Dr. Barnes knows about the rebels that will attack and he already has a countermeasure in place to stop them, killing a lot of people in the process and not stopping the Testing. She knows this because she saw the man from Book 1 who helped her – a rebel – killed Michel – who had been helping her, also a rebel – and mention Dr. Barnes’ plan.  She has to kill the four people soon before the rebels attack.

Cia is heading out one morning when Damian confronts her and tries to kill her. She stabs him as Raffe shows up, and they decide to throw his body in the Ravine near their building to make it look like a suicide. Enzo has seen them do this, but covers for them when questions are asked. Tomas and Cia go into hiding as they plan for who they are going to attack: four people on the President’s list of 12 (why did she give them 12 names…), as those four are the most dangerous. Tomas and Stacia go to kill two, and Raffe and Cia go to kill the others. Will goes and sets some bomb distractions to lure police away who are looking for them. Raffe kills his father and when they go to find Dr. Barnes, it’s a trap. Raffe stays – as rebels have shown up – at the house while Cia goes to the Testing Center to find Dr. Barnes. The house blows up, with Raffe inside. Cia finds Dr. Barnes, who tells her that this was all a set up. She has to kill him so that his bet is won. She should’ve failed the Testing, but Dr. Barnes knew she would be the one to end it for real. The President doesn’t believe him though and set up this test. If Cia could kill Dr. Barnes, the Testing would end. If not, she’d died and the Testing would get more stringent with more competitors. Cia can’t kill him. She flees, but is shot at by another student who had been guarding Dr. Barnes. Her brother manages to make it to her and jumps in front of the bullet, dying. She kills Griffin, and Will kills Dr. Barnes and gives Cia credit. The President believes Cia did it and the Testing ends.

It turns out that the people who were “Redirected” go to this unknown colony where they are treated with chemicals to then study. There Cia finds Will’s twin and Raffe’s sister. Tomas goes back to Seven Lakes colony to work with her father. Cia goes back to Tosu City to make sure the Testing really ends.


The writing wasn’t terrible, and it was an easy enough read to be sure. I must say, I’m terribly glad that my University exams weren’t like that. I’d be dead twenty times over if that were the case.

The problems I have with the books are two-fold. 1) Cia is perfect and 2) This is too much like the Hunger Games/Giver/Divergent.

  1. Cia never fails. She just never does. She is always right; she always figures out what’s going on; and she always saves the day. She never wants to be a leader, but is chosen anyway. All the guys like her. She gets crazy scores on her exams and seems to never get a question wrong. I got so sick and tired of her perfection, honestly. Really? Get a wrong answer! It’s a bit frustrating and she’s the most Mary Sue-ish character I feel like I’ve seen in awhile. She always is kind and always makes the right decision. Also, she never kills unless out of self-defense.
  2. This is too much like the Hunger Games. Split into colonies…a test where people kill each other…Yes, it’s at a University, but that just reminds me then of the Giver or Divergent. Maybe I’m getting to the point where all YA dystopian novels are the same? It’s just too much for me. The books have some good lines, and they certainly address some issues like Just War and leadership, but so does Hunger Games (and in a much better way). Moreover, it’s like everyone is evil. Everyone in the book is out to get something and they are all trying to manipulate one another. I’m not a total optimist, but isn’t that a bit much? Really?
  3. Third thing I forgot: I hated the relationship between Cia and Tomas. I didn’t hate it so much as that it didn’t make sense. In book one, there’s nothing and then all of the sudden he’s telling her he loves her. I kept waiting for him to turn on her. It’s just weird and sudden and there’s no development. There’s more development between Cia and Raffe than Cia and Tomas. And the writing about how passionate their kisses are…blargh, I hated it.

Rating: Overall, I’d give this series a 2.5/5. It had intriguing parts and the first death during the Testing is intense, but I can’t get over how similar it is to others and how too-perfect Cia is to really recommend it as a series to anyone. It was just meh, but I wouldn’t spend money on it, really, if I were you.


One thought on “Book Review: The Testing Series by Joelle Charbonneau

  1. Well I think you didn’t really read the book . Your Summary of this series all messed up. At first you said Seven Lake instead they are Five Lake Colony. Both Cia and Tomas have the same symbols. They didn’t take 2 days writing test. Cia didn’t finish few questions not 1 question. There are 13 Tosu City students and 3 colony students instead of 22 and 4 in Goverment. And a lot more than you wrote up there. This series are much better than Hunger Games. The students in Tosu City do need to take a test to get into University whoever fail will be redirected. Cia isn’t smart like she think she is. She failed all her test due to emotional and because of Dr Barnes, he made she passed. Then I think you should reread these books. In book 1, Tomas sat behind her in the class in Five Lake Colony so he might have like her then. He also did tell her that they are partners because they’re both from Five Lake so they need to work together to pass those tests. But I think you need to reread this series.

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About ambfso

Currently in Portuguese language training. Next post: Sao Paulo, Brazil