The Testing, Book 1

Common Sense Media says

Thoughtful dystopian tale questions winning at all costs.





What parents need to know

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

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.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

On two occasions, Cia drinks celebratory alcoholic beverages.

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.

Parents say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

Kids say

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.

Families can talk 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

Author:Joelle Charbonneau
Genre:Science Fiction
Topics:Sports and martial arts, Adventures, Great girl role models
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:June 4, 2013
Number of pages:352
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17
Available on:Hardback, iBooks, Kindle, Nook

This review of The Testing, Book 1 was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

Find out more


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

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 funny, you should read your book.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 15 years old Written by1PandaBear1 February 25, 2015

More Like 2.5 Stars

Joelle Charbonneau's beginning of The Testing trilogy was ok. It reminded me way too much of The Hunger Games. Tomas was a brown haired, one-dimpled Peeta and Cia was a frizzy haired and short Katniss. The Testing system is very similar to the Hunger Games, only their deaths are by paper, pencil, and other sorts of tests. And Cia actually has a crush on Tomas and Tomas has a crush on her. The goriness level, I would have to include, is about equal to The Hunger Games. Overall, this book wasn't the best book I've read, but I wasn't the worst either. It was a Hunger Games set in a destroyed Chicago. Charbonneau does know how to write a book though.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Kid, 12 years old November 14, 2014


This book is a must read but be aware of sexual violence. They sometimes swear in the book so not sure if it is a must read or not. Just read it!
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much sex
Too much swearing


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Essential Apps Guide