The Testing, Book 1

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
The Testing, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Thoughtful dystopian tale questions winning at all costs.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 33 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The Testing provides a relatively realistic picture of what it might take to survive alone on the road after civilization has collapsed. The characters follow standard survival and first-aid practices but don't indulge in the kinds of superheroics found in other dystopian fictions.

Positive Messages

The Testing emphasizes the importance of fair play and personal values, even in the face of life-or-death struggles. Cia has opportunities to get ahead by letting someone else be hurt, but she always struggles to find a way to protect herself without descending to the worst forms of behavior.

Positive Role Models & Representations

In The Testing, protagonist Cia Vale is presented as smart, brave, resourceful, and trustworthy. She's not perfect, but she wants to succeed and make a better life for herself. She's offered many chances to succeed at the expense of others, but she usually finds a way to progress in The Testing while playing fair with her fellow contestants.


The Testing contains a fair amount of violence, but perhaps at a lower intensity than is usual in this kind of dystopian adventure. A supporting character commits suicide, another is killed by a nail through the eye. Cia is attacked by mutated animals and humans and forced to shoot them. Other teen characters shoot each other or arrange circumstances so that their peers are killed. But the violence is not overly graphic, and Cia does not take any death lightly.


By the end of The Testing, Cia and Tomas believe they are in love with each other, but their physical relationship does not extend much past hand-holding, hugs, and passionate kisses.


The language in The Testing is fairly tame. "Hell" and "damn" are employed perhaps a half-dozen times each, but otherwise there are no other objectionable words.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

On two occasions, Cia drinks celebratory alcoholic beverages.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Testing is a dystopian science fiction adventure in the mold of The Hunger Games, but without that series' bloodshed, pessimism, and intensity. There's a fair amount of violence -- including a suicide and a death by nail shot through someone's eye -- but the female teen protagonist in particular does not take any killing lightly. The language in the novel is very tame ("hell" and "damn"), and the level of sexual content (kissing) and substance use (two instances of celebratory drinking) are very low.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byJonathon987 June 16, 2015


One of my favourite books of all time!
Adult Written byTheMarkM October 14, 2020

erivative and Unpleasant

Yet another dystopian novel with an unbelievably rigid social structure and a leadership that seems to have unlimited resources available for oppression. The se... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byChefpanda_YT January 2, 2021

To much killing

I would not recommend this book for kids under 17-18 because of all the death and suicide, it is not appropriate for them.
Kid, 11 years old June 26, 2013

Read it

Kids my age would love it
There is some violence that children might cringe at (and making out)
But I loved it! I also met the author and she was very nice and... Continue reading

What's the story?

Seventeen-year-old Cia Vale has always dreamed of leaving her family at the Five Lakes Colony and going on to university. First, though, she must pass The Testing, a brutal series of examinations that push applicants to their physical, intellectual, and emotional extremes. Before she leaves, her father tells her to trust no one, but does that include Tomas, the handsome, sensitive classmate who seems almost too good to be true?

Is it any good?

Although it at first seems like The Hunger Games Lite, THE TESTING proves to have some original thinking behind it. As Cia and Tomas struggle to master the various assignments that will ensure them a college education and a rewarding career (provided they aren't killed first), the novel grows in complexity and develops suspenseful momentum. The book questions the notion of winning at all costs, and those who fail The Testing are treated by Cia as unique individuals who deserve compassion. The saga is clearly only beginning at the end of this volume, but readers will be ready to sign up for the next installment.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about dystopian novels. Why are they so popular? How does The Testing compare with other dystopian books you've read? 

  • Does society force teenagers to compete against one and another? When is competition desirable, and how can it be abused?


  • Do you think that the government ever secretly records the private conversations of its citizens? What reasons might they give for doing so?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dystopian novels and sci-fi

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