It has been a hundred years since the first of the Four Stages took place. It had a domino effect, leading one leader to drop bombs to decimate other countries...bombs that not only contained radiation but chemicals as well. The last Three Stages was the earth fighting back, creating devastation through natural disasters for years. The United States, now the United Commonwealth, has colonies set up across the country to not only help civilization survive in a particular region, but also to give each colony a specific job to bolster the Commonwealth in general. The Tuscon Colony has specialists in oil refining. Five Lakes Colony has a specialist genetically modifying plants to survive in a wasteland the Seven Stages has created, and this is where Cia Vale lives.
She knows her future is uncertain, and more than anything, she wishes she could be a part of the Testing, giving the top graduating students in every colony a chance at a better future. For the last 10 years, no one has been selected from Five Lakes. Cia knows it's a long shot, but continues to be hopeful....and her hopefulness is rewarded the next day when she finds out her name is on the list selected for the Testing. Although she's full of nervous excitement, her father is not happy for her. He knows...he's been through it himself. His only piece of advice before she departs is to not trust anyone. And with that, Cia is transported via skimmer to Tosu City along with Tomas, Zalandri, and Malachi.
The testing will take place in four stages.
Stage One: the written exam designed to test knowledge.
Stage Two: hands-on examines to test the transference of knowledge into practical use
Stage Three: to determine teamwork as well as assessing other teammates' strengths and weaknesses
Stage Four: testing decision-making and leadership abilities.
Not all will make the final cut. Cia is up for the challenge and the further into the Testing she goes, the more she understands that it's not only about her abilities of meeting the demands of the tests, but the willingness to survive them as well....
At this moment, dystopia fiction is hot...and there is a lot being published out there for YA readers. While some feel "empty," others have more substance. Well, YA dystopia lovers, rejoice! Charbonneau takes the reader into the not only the aftermath of the Seven Stages, but also why they happened, which creates a rich historical background to the story, which make the present more understandable. The characters in the book receive no training or even advance notice about the Testing, which makes the plot thicken to the point where readers will wonder who will pass or fail and which character can they trust. While some proclaim this akin to the Hunger Games, I see it as something very different in the story itself because of all the aforementioned items. Dystopia is dystopia...it will look the same. But this one has some serious flavor to it! Sequel is out: Independent Study. Recommended.