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Book Review: Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau

“Cia. Enzo. Will. Damone,” Ian calls, and the voices around us go quiet. The four of us walk to where Ian stands next to Professor Holt. “Congratulations on returning with your entire team intact. Do you have the markers?”

I dig into the green bag and hand the markers from the first three challenges to Ian. “We don’t have a marker for this task.”

“There wasn’t a marker for the final test. This task was designed to be insurmountable.” Professor Holt takes the markers and gives me a small smile. “Ian was told to engage the bridge when we deduced that you had figured out that solution.”

My heartbeat measures the silence until Professor Holt says, “It takes a lot of courage to choose to do nothing when you aren’t certain of the outcome. We believe this is an important lesson to impart to all University students and one many students find almost impossible to accept. I’m happy to learn that most on this team are more . . . open-minded.”

I see Damone flush.

Professor Holt hands the markers back to Ian with a small nod. Ian turns and gives us a wide smile. “Congratulations, Cia, Enzo, Will, and Damone. Since you arrived first with all of your markers, we are happy to declare you the winners. Once the other three teams arrive, we will hold a formal Induction ceremony where you will be officially welcomed into the Government Studies program. Until then, I suggest you get lots of rest. I’ve seen your class schedules. Trust me, you’re going to need it.”

The students standing behind Ian laugh. As my teammates celebrate, I notice that Professor Holt isn’t the only one watching me. In the distance, next to the willow tree where just yesterday I stood with Enzo, is Dr. Barnes.

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Independent Study, book two of The Testing Series by Joelle Charbonneau picks up where The Testing dropped readers off. Cia, having survived her testing and having no memory of the horrors that have been inflicted, finds the recordings that she made for herself to remember- and learns that the happy memories she has of the test and her fallen friends are a lie. As their courses of studies are announced, Cia is locked into Government Studies, away from Thomas and next to Will, who’s motivation is in doubt based on the actions she remembers. Additionally, everyone who survived the testing are placed in with those from the town, who never had to go through the brutal testing- yet everyone has to go through the Induction- a week of brutal physical and mental challenges designed by each specific college to weed out those unworthy of the honor, a week where the slightest mistake can be fatal. And all eyes seem to be on Cia- especially when she uncovers a conspiracy against the government. Yet can Cia trust those around her- or those from home- or anyone?
Fast paced and making you want the third in the series already (Graduation Day, estimated publication June 2014), Cia is believable and the twists and turns keeps readers on their seats. The fact that Cia never knows who to trust and double crosses from adults as well as others abound only adds to the creep factor with everything going on around her. Additionally, the theme that those around you can never seem to be trusted really hits home with teens and dystopia right now.
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(Warning: still intense violence for younger teens, so if you have some that are sensitive to these types of mental images, this book/series is not for them. I have some that can watch The Hunger Games and other things on screen and they’re fine, but if they read it, it gives them nightmares.)
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for those who have already started the series, as well as those looking for alternatives to The Hunger Games series, the Divergent series, and Enders duality, or high action dystopias.
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Could June hurry? I need Graduation Day already.