Here we have a post-apocalyptic America destroyed by natural disasters and war, wherein a few lucky students are chosen each year to participate in “The Testing,” a prerequisite to getting into the University in the capital city. The proceedings of “The Testing” are top-secret, such that the minds of the candidates are wiped after the experience, although the vivid nightmares and half-memories plague survivors.
We follow young ambitious Cia who is a product of her privileged upper middle class white family and achieves her life ambition of being selected for “The Testing” until her father takes her aside and reveals to her the nefarious undertakings she might encounter, and that she should “trust no one.” So naturally she proceeds to trust her handler, trust the cute boy who conveniently has had a crush on her forever, trust her classmates, trust that grey haired man on the other side of the fence, etc. For a girl who’s telling us she’s pretty savvy, she certainly doesn’t act like it. This is no Katniss Everdeen, and Charbonneau is no Susanne Collins.
|This is how Cia interprets her father's "Trust no one" advice|
Cia is along for the ride with her cute classmate Tomas, who conveniently has a crush on her and who quickly stakes his claim with a lot of non-platonic hand-holding. In the most groan-worthy stolen scene from THG, Cia repeatedly tends to a wound... in Tomas’s buttocks. Their relationship quickly and conflict-less-ly evolves into “true love!” which they oh-so-adorably proclaim to each other once privately, and once for the benefit of the government officials listening. Because, yes, the testers are watching every gushy, vomitous moment. Though it escapes me why you would want the government officials to know you’re in love with your classmate, and how that could possibly behoove you knowing that they are malicious and out to test your boundaries and loyalties. And if I were an official having to listen to this drivel, I’d have killed them both off a lot sooner.
No, YOU'RE prettier!
Each time the book might have held something special, something page-turning, it fell short and took the safe way out. Cia’s father’s dreams of a city of rubble and the horrors that took place there felt promising; what transpired was a perfunctory “then we were scared, then there were shots, then we were safe.” I was never on the edge of my seat. I never cared what happened on the next page. Even the love story (and I’m a glutton for kissing scenes) was tepid and forced. The entire novel felt very… safe; and that’s the one thing a dystopian novel should not be. The point of this genre is to examine human nature using extreme situations. No situation ever felt extreme nor did I ever question the nature of the stereotyped characters or my own character and reactions to them. The Testing was a chore I had to complete.