The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau (Houghton Mifflin hardcover 4 June 2013).
The United States has become a barren and unforgiving land due to what is known as the Seven Stages War. People struggle to survive, with scientists who attempt to modify plant life that will survive in the contaminated land, to provide sustenance for the relatively few survivors. TThere are a number of colonized pockets of varying sizes; Five Lakes Colony is one of the smallest.
It's graduation day and the whole community of Five Lakes celebrates it. Sixteen-year-old Malencia (Cia) Vale is excited, certain she'll be chosen for The Testing, a process by which the best and brightest students from all the colonies are chosen to go to The University.
No one from Five Lakes has been chosen in years, and Cia is certain that she can make the cut. Eventually, she is one of four students chosen, and they must leave for Tosu City the morning after they receive the news. None of them have any idea what to expect. Cia's father had been chosen, but chose not to talk about his experiences, until just before his daughter leaves. What Cia learns alarms her, but she must go: the penalty for refusing to be Tested is death.
Novels with dystopian themes have become abundant in YA literature over the past few years, and its amost a certainty that most will be compared to The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
And there are similarities here: female protagonist, young people taken farm from home to possibly never return, a romance with a male contestant, and a struggle for survival. But not only is Charbonneau's story no carbon copy, it is an exciting and compelling tale. There are a few details that are difficult to understand (why are students who refuse to be Tested put to death?), but then who ever said that governments made sense?
Cia is an engaging heroine, and the reader is instantly draw into her life, eagerly wanting to know what happens next. The biggest problem with this is that the second book in the series, Independent Study, is not due until January, which provides me about three and a half months of anxiety.
FTC full disclosure: I borrowed this book from my local library.