Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“In the series debut The Testing, sixteen-year-old Cia Vale was chosen by the United Commonwealth government as one of the best and brightest graduates of all the colonies . . . a promising leader in the effort to revitalize postwar civilization. In Independent Study, Cia is a freshman at the University in Tosu City with her hometown sweetheart, Tomas—and though the government has tried to erase her memory of the brutal horrors of The Testing, Cia remembers. Her attempts to expose the ugly truth behind the government’s murderous programs put her—and her loved ones—in a world of danger. But the future of the Commonwealth depends on her.”
This is one of the books that I was most excited about seeing as the year started. I absolutely loved The Testing, even though it’s rightly pointed out that there are lots of similarities to The Hunger Games. In fact, I was at the local bookstore on the release date grabbing for it like Gollum grabbing for his precious. I dove into it soon after and realized that it wasn’t what I expected.
And what was it I expected? Well, I’m not sure. I guess I thought I’d be seeing a logical extension of what happened in the first book, and in some respects, I did. The author showed the consequences of Cia’s inability to remember what happened during her Testing, as well as taking the story beyond the framework of the life-or-death competition. There was some exploration of the politics of this version of the United States, and a lot of machinations to change those in power.
What I didn’t expect is that the first half of the book would deal with circumstances that were nearly identical to the final Testing in the original book. Each “track” of study conducts a hazing ritual for new students, and what they go through—or at least, what Cia’s track goes through—is eerily similar to her wilderness ordeal from the first novel. It’s not that it’s badly written or unexciting, because I did enjoy reading it. I just realized after getting through that part that I had been hoping for something different.
While I agree that showing the continued danger to university students was called for, I think it went on a bit too long. Cia’s new struggles with classwork and internships take far too long to come into the narrative, especially given that the novel is called Independent Study. I thought there’d be more focus on what the title references. That’s my own expectation, though, and like I said, it’s not indicative of any lack of writing skill on Charbonneau’s part.
Once we get into new territory, plot-wise at any rate, the novel picks up. The seeds of rebellion that have been brewing come more to the front of the story and readers get to see Cia navigating situations that have a whole different set of deadly consequences. There’s the constant uncertainty about whether or not the information that she’s finding is true or not, or if the tasks she’s working on are contrived or real. It’s that high level of tension that drives the last half of the book.
Independent Study may not have lived up to my high expectations from the first novel, but I did find it to be enjoyable and fast-paced. I look forward to seeing how the series concludes, and this is one that I’ll definitely be keeping on my shelves.
Also by this author: The Testing