The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
I read this book last year and had forgotten about it until near the end of the year when I discovered books 2 and 3 on my library's audiobook website. I had never gotten around to reviewing it but remembered that I had liked it well enough to want to read the next one in the series.
So, something's happened to the world. In this case, a large scale world war decimated the planet and dramatically reduced its population. The effects of the weaponry used killed plants, animals and people and polluted the land. The land, attempting to recover, responded in kind with hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, you name it. This series of events is referred to as "the seven stages of war." Most technology and much knowledge has been lost. Small colonies of survivors exist and are working to re-build. The former United States of America is now the United Commonwealth, a central governing body and the colonies. I'm still not clear on the name Tosu City, but its location in the center of the country is explained in book 3. I don't think I spoil anything to answer that here: the town of Wichita was selected because, being less of a military target and having withstood plenty of natural disasters over the course of its history, it had withstood the war better and had a large population. So here's a civilization that has a passing rememberance of how it used to be, who has worked to rediscover things like solar power, electricity (rationed) and has also made its own advances like "skimmers" (which seem to be hovercrafts more suited for the rough terrain without many paved roads.)
Most people will grow up in their colonies, but many children graduate from school hoping to be chosen for "The Testing," which is essentially the entrance exam to the Tosu City University, the only higher education facility in the United Commonwealth.
For many years, the Five Lakes colony has not had any students selected for The Testing. But this year, several are, including Malencia (Cia) Vale. The night of her selection, her father, who admits he can't remember his own testing, confides in her that he has nightmares which may or may not be of things that occurred during the testing. The next day, the students leave for the testing. And then the Hunger Games comparisons begin. Well, throw in The Road and a little Revolution. Maybe a little bit of the final Divergent book, the parts where you thought it could still be cool, before it veered back into disappointing. (Someone said a bit of Maze Runner but I don't see it.)
The Testing is not a good thing... can Cia and her fellow colonists survive? How come no one remembers their testing? This is a thinking book. You really get into the head of Cia. There's action, but there's also a lot of time spent on paranoia, motivation and strategy. So it's a bit slow. I'm working on book 3 now on audiobook. I'm not sure I would have gotten to book 3 if I were reading (versus listening) and even now, with 2 hours a day in the car it's taking awhile to get through. But the way the author takes time to really get into motivation becomes really important by book 3 when a lot of characters are carefully balanced into the story.
I think it is distinct enough from the other YA dystopian to where I'm committed to seeing the trilogy through to the end. The disbelief-suspension quota feels low to me and it's an interesting story.
You can find the book (and read more reviews) on Amazon.com. If you buy it, I get a few pennies towards my coffee fund.