Sleator (House of Stairs; Hell Phone) misses the mark with a dystopian near-future thriller that takes the doctrine of "No Child Left Behind" doctrine to extremes. The eponymous test (it "not only left kids, it got rid of them") is the all-important XCAS, and to prepare for it, students learn nothing except how to take tests; however, those who fail it cannot go to college and are barred from high-paying jobs. These have-nots are literally stuck in traffic, spinning their wheels for hours before they can reach any useful destination. Luckily Ann Forrest, the feisty heroine, can walk to and from school. When her do-gooder father, a home health aid, aggravates Mr. Warren, the mega-rich owner of the housing project where Mr. Forrest works, the Warrens send a minion on a motorcycle to attack Ann. Meanwhile Ann discovers that the Warrens also own the company that publishes the XCAS. Coincidences pile up and overload the plot: Lep, a Thai immigrant who works for the Warrens, has proof of their corruption and will do anything for Ann, who is also his classmate; a newspaper reporter just happens to witness Ann's attack; etc. Stiffly executed and obvious in its conclusions, this is more premise than story. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
AGERANGE: Ages 12 to 18.
In Massachusetts, where Sleator lives part of the year, we have MCAS exams in the school system, which determine whether a student advances or graduates. In the novel Test, Sleator features the XCAS exams, which determine the future of every student. In Sleator’s future world, not far from our own, the exams are prepared by a corporation, run by an unscrupulous rich man, who makes a lot of money selling the test to the government. There are many ways this system can be corrupted. Two students are featured: Ann and Lep. They meet in their English class, and amazingly Lep, who is an immigrant with poor English skills, starts scoring better and better on the practice exams. It turns out Lep is being bribed, provided correct answers in exchange for helping the unscrupulous rich man get rid of poor tenants in property he owns. Tony, who works for the corporation, is so twisted he tries to kill Ann when she starts asking questions. Then there is evil rich girl Elise, with a crush on Tony, who makes more mischief. For those readers who follow current events and the growing power of certain corporations to take control of our lives, this will seem to be a relevant SF thriller. Ann and Lep manage to thwart the system brilliantly, at great risk to themselves and their families. An interesting statement on the growing ability of a few wealthy people to have almost total power over us all; with the added element of a huge disparity between the wealthy few and the many struggling poor. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
March 2008 (Vol. 42, No.2)
AGERANGE: Ages 11 to 15.
Considering Sleator's popularity, this novel is a particularly disappointing and overly simplistic work. In the near future, the masses sit in traffic for hours to reach schools where they are taught only how to pass the national graduation test. Ann, a forgettable main character, is threatened by a mysterious motorcyclist and discovers that Mr. Warren, the slumlord owner of the building where her father works, coincidentally publishes the financially lucrative test; Warren's apartment manager, Tony, is the menacing motorcyclist; and Tony is bribing one of Ann's immigrant classmates with test answers. Unfortunately the characters are so clichéd and stupid that the book cannot be taken seriously. Warren's bulimic daughter Elise buys a new hair dryer every few months to be sure to have the latest model. Sadistic Tony desperately wants to keep his job, yet he arranges to start a fire in the apartment of a tenant he does not like, endangering the entire building and his job. The media is unaware of Warren's connection to the test, even though Warren prints his "secret" corporate logo on the test materials and on Tony's motorcycle. Ann surreptitiously records Elise's threat to tamper with Ann's test scores, yet she forgets to play the recording when she tells the story to a journalist. Although some readers may be lured by the anti-standardized test message or Sleator's reputation, libraries should base the purchase of this book only on expected interest, rather than anticipated quality. Reviewer: Amy Sisson
April 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 1)
Gr 7-9- In the (seemingly) not-so-distant future, the divide between the rich and the poor is greater than ever, with the wealthy having private helicopters and mansions, and the poor stuck in endless traffic and living in projects. Standardized tests determine which kids will be allowed to go to college and have a decent life. Ann's father works for Warren, the slumlord who owns the projects; when he tries to get the residents to rebel, Tony, the building manager, threatens Ann. Warren also owns the company that publishes the tests and has connections in Washington. Lep, a Thai immigrant, is asked to do illegal and dangerous things for Tony in exchange for the test answers. When Lep and Ann discover how much corruption is behind the tests, they decide to take action, thus putting their lives in danger. While the characters are somewhat flat and the writing is often repetitious, the plot is fact paced with short chapters that end in cliff-hangers, allowing the book to be a good read for moderately reluctant readers. Teens will be able to draw comparisons to contemporary society's shift toward standardized testing and ecological concerns, and are sure to appreciate the spoofs on NCLB. Although the novel wraps up too neatly, it still may be an inspiration for teens wishing to change their political/social environment.-Marie C. Hansen, New York Public Library