Art Beat: The Testing

Mar 14, 2019

Joelle Charbonneau
Credit Tom Frey

In the dystopian novel The Testing, sixteen-year old Malencia Vale is selected for multiple-choice exams, hands-on survival tests, and team challenges. Then there’s the final test: a 700-mile wilderness trek to prove her abilities as a leader.


The book by Joelle Charbonneau (HMH Books, 2015) is part of a New York Times bestselling trilogy. It's this year’s pick for CommuniTEEN 2019, a community reading program for teens sponsored by the Portage Public Schools, the Portage District Library, and Bookbug/This is a Bookstore in Kalamazoo.

“Our goal is to reinforce connection with family, peers, and community, and to encourage the Portage community to read together,” says Sara Brown, a teacher media specialist at the Portage Central High School Library. “We're excited to connect teens with the authors they have read, and value the face-to-face experience that this event brings in a world full of screens and online communication.”

Speaking about her novel, Charbonneau says, “Education is a hot-button issue for a lot of people: how to fund it, what kinds of things should be taught. And when you get people talking politically about it, they’re not listening to each other. They agree on more than they think they actually do. But when they are thinking, 'I’m on this side and you’re on that side,' they can’t get very far.”

Credit HMH Books

Charbonneau, who also performs in operas and other musical productions and offers private voice lessons, says her students inspired her to write The Testing. She heard them talk about the stress they experience during the testing, application, and audition process required to be accepted in college. The novel takes those stresses to an extreme in a futuristic setting. 

“I wanted to make it worse,” Charbonneau says. “I had to come up with a plan on how I could make that possible. For that, I had to find a time and a place that would allow it. It drove me to write a dystopian novel, which I didn’t intend on doing originally, but it was the only scenario in which I could make this idea work.”

Joelle Charbonneau is also the author of two mystery series, a fantasy series, and a couple of stand-alone thrillers. Her young adult books have appeared on the Indie Next List and the YALSA Top 10 books for 2014 as well as the YALSA Quick Picks for reluctant readers. She lives in the Chicago area. Charbonneau’s new novel, Verify, will be out in September.

Charbonneau will be in Portage at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20, at Portage Central High School for a presentation and book signing. The event is free and open to the public.

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