This was one of my first exciting grabs at my very first Book Expo four years ago. I don't know why it took me so long to get to Joelle Charbonneau's The Testing, but I finally did this last week.
Cia Vale is out of Five Lakes Colony, and they haven't seen anyone selected for The Testing in years. Since the Seven Stage War, the colonies have sent their best and their brightest to Tosu City to test for university and a government placement. Only once you leave your family, you can't go back. When Cia graduates, she is selected along with three classmates. She heads into the city but finds out quickly that the testing is not as happy an honor as it's made out to be. She must fight to stay alive, and in the process, manage a new relationship and the knowledge that soon she will lose all of her memories.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It came out at the height of the dystopian YA movement (years after those hungry novels but right at the release of the movies) and I was terribly interested in a new take. I thought the plot was engrossing enough to keep me reading, and Charbonneau has quite a knack for good end-of-chapter cliffhangers. I am not the first to jump at the chance to read dystopian fiction; it's just not my style. This story, though, transcended that aversion and got me deep into the inner workings of a young woman's quest to stay alive while still retaining her values.
I also really loved the character of Cia -- she was a strong, fantastic female protagonist, cut from my favorite cloth of problematic while lacking in whininess or self-pity. Cis struggles with hurting other people in the last round of testing, and she shows her empathic side in a scene that involves death at a large level. Watching her struggle with her feelings of fairness was a lovely and honest read. She did what she had to do and it was glorious. I would absolutely feel comfortable handing this book off to my own children as a great story that also reads as a story of female empowerment.