The Testing, Book 1 Book Poster Image

The Testing, Book 1



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.

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:Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

This review of The Testing, Book 1 was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


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; OK 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 these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

Top advice and articles

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, 13 years old Written byTHEFAULTINOURSTARS May 3, 2014

The Author Came To My School!!

I think this book is very good and has a god educational value somewhat. The author came to talk to my grade and gave us an insight on what this book is about. She said that she based it off of her high school testing and kind of shaped the book around that just in a different way. There is alot of killing but not an accesive amount. Cia Vale is chosen to go into the Testing and compete with other kids for a spot at the University and a education like no other that will determine their final jobs. Cia and her 'boyfriend' Thomas work together through the struggles that are thrown at them and eventually fall in love in the first book. They go through tests that 'test' their level of capability with very hard things. Luckily, Cia Vale is very smart. The biggest test is that they are put out in a forest to find their way miles back to the city alone and endure, and maybe kill, other kids, but Cia and Tomas stick together through the whole thing. My least favorite part is probably when Cia's roomate hangs herself and Cia finds the body in her room. That was probably the worst part though. This helps Cia see the real tests inside of the overall test and fight her way through the stuggles. I really enjoyed this book!!
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Teen, 16 years old Written byVoiceOfTruth May 12, 2014

Excellent Read

Futuristic story that teaches kids to think about those around them, and not blindly trust strangers. Also, it shows that how you win matters just as much as winning at all. I won't say 'too much violence', but there is shooting, burying the dead, pulling a sharp stick out of someone's abdomen, electrocution, poisoning, and fighting.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models


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