Test‘s heart is in the right place. Or, rather the left place, as in the left political place. I totally approve of that, of course.

What I do not approve of is heavy-handed didacticism.

Test is set in a slightly futuristic world in which all public-school students have to take the XCAS, hugely important exams which determine whether or not you graduate high school. No diploma, no college. No college, no chance to get rich and buy a helicopter, the only way to avoid the Traffic and the Pollution. Did I mention that the XCAS is backed by the president and his oilman friends? And, of course, if you can afford a helicopter, you can afford to put your students through private school, where students don’t have to take the XCAS.

Oh, and near the end you find out that the main cheesy slogan behind the XCAS is “No Child Left Behind.” Yes, my friends, that headache you’re developing is the result of being bludgeoned by a real-world connection which would have been so much more effective had it been more subtle.

Of course, I can’t help but feel that Sleator is writing for a world in which English class has already turned from reading books to test prep. While it’s more than a few paragraphs, his solution doesn’t raise the bar.