Wednesday, June 26, 2013

If "Divergent" is the Next "Hunger Games", Is "The Testing" the Next "Divergent"? We Find Out on Joelle Charbonneau's Visit, Monday, July 8, 7 pm.

I just got my copy of Entertainment Weekly and the cover story was "Divergent: Is This the Next Hunger Games?: I think for many folks with the wallets, the answer is "it better be." In that story, Beatrice "Tris" Prior has to declare her allegiance to one of five predetermined factions, but since she doesn't have an obvious allegiance, she surprsies everyone. Needless to say, the civilization, which benevolently honors honesty, bravery, selflessness, peacefulness, and intelligence, is not exactly what it seems. The good thing is that Shailene Woodley and Theo James are probably just the right actors to get to the bottom of things.

So now I ask, is The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau the new Divergent? We've hosted a few dystopian authors, most recently on the HarperCollins Dark Days tour, but nobody solo since Lisa McMann's The Unwanteds. Of course McMann's series is geared to a slightly younger kid and at first we have no idea that it's dystopian at all; it just seems like a fantasy story. I should note that I like the middle grade stuff as the violence is a little less graphic and there's not so much smooching. But I know from experience that the smooch is a key part of these stories.

In the way that McMann's story was inspired by the cuts in arts classes, Charbonneau's trilogy looks at the overabundance of testing in today's society, and how it can lead to poor choices, bad behavior on the part of students and teachers alike, and causes us to do things like cut arts programs (see above), since they don't help kids succeed at testing. For the kids in Charbonneau's world, testing is a life or death matter; only 20 kids get into "university" and for the kids who get a chance to test in and don't make it, the results are not so great. Death's not so great, right?

So Cia is in the far-off Five Lakes Colony (like Divergent, part of The Testing is set in a bombed out Chicago) in a world that has had seven stages of war, including massive bombings and ecological devastation. Her dad and older brother works on using genetic modification to create plants that can adjust to the new environment. Her brother Zeen is clearly a genius, yet he wasn't called up for the Testing. In fact, nobody's been called up for ten years. But then a new teacher comes in and four get chosen. What's up with that?

So Cia goes with three others, including the dreamy Tomas, travel to Tosu City for the four stages of the test. It starts out pretty standardized, but each stage gets weirder and more brutal, until Cia and the reader start to question exactly what kind of leaders this government want. Is her mentor Michal protecting her or is that part of the test. And are they being monitored like lab rats? And boy are some of these kids ruthless! Yikes.

Needless to say, Cia is smart and savvy, technically adept and though she's smart enough to dress in pants when the other girls don flowing dresses for their test, she still can turn the head of at least a couple of suitors.

This is Charbonneau's first book for young adults; she's best known as a mystery writer, and as a result, is doing an event at Mystery One at 5 pm. We've also had reads from Hannah and Stacie. The Testing is the #1 Summer 2013 Indie Next Kids Pick, and it had some really powerful competition. Five of the top ten have recommendations from Boswellians--Twerp from Pam, Far, Far Away from Amie, The Rithmatist from Jason, and The School for Good and Evil from Mel.

Here's the Indie Next Pick for The Testing from another mystery bookseller:
“In post-apocalyptic America, the key to survival is leadership and the training of great leaders takes place at the University. To make it to the University, a select number of students from colonies across the surviving landscape must first make it through The Testing. Charbonneau’s first foray into writing for young adults yields cliffhanger after cliffhanger, making it impossible to find a point for the reader to pause. Every scene, every word becomes important to the end of this story, so pay close attention: You do not want to fail The Testing!”
 —Nicole Porter, Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, CA

Charbonneau has a series of roller rink mysteries, the most recent is Skating on the Edge. Being that Mel's dream is a roller rink bookstore, I hope she gets to meet Charbonneau when she visits.

Our event is Monday, July 8, 7 pm, at Boswell. Schools and library contacts, we'll be doing another event with Charbonneau in January when the second volume of the series, Independent Study, comes out. And the third book, Graduation Day, comes out next June. This is a change up from the normal schedule of one book a year. Seems like a a good test to me, huh?

No comments: