Thursday, July 3, 2014

Review: Independent Study - Joelle Charbonneau

Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau
Series: The Testing #2
Genre: YA, dystopian
Published on January 7, 2014
Published by HMH Books
Pages: 310
Read From: 6.25.14 - 6.28.14

With her brutal Testing experience forgotten thanks to a government-issued memory wipe, seventeen-year-old Cia Vale is eager to begin her studies at the Commonwealth's elite University, as is Tomas, the boy she loves. 
Their bright futures are threatened by the past, however, when violent nightmares that feel more like memories force Cia to question reality and the true movies lurking behind the friendly faces of her classmates. 
Embarking on a forbidden course of study that could get her killed, Cia delves into the Commonwealth's darkest secrets. What she learns changes everything. . . . 
The Testing was just the beginning.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I do love the simplicity - and shinyness! - of these covers. And dark green being my favorite color (one of them, anyway), of course I love the background scheme.

Characters: In The Testing, I said that the characters were all perfectly likable, but they also felt rather underdeveloped. You can safely assume that the 4-strawberry rating is a good indication that Independent Study improves in this aspect - as well as others. Cia is still a very kind protagonist; someone who will never leave a person behind, even if they tried to kill her. She refuses to let The Testing change who she is, and she stands by the principles her parents taught her even if it means her death. I wouldn't be as good of a person as Cia if I were in the same situation. If someone tried to kill me, I wouldn't hesitate to abandon them - and yes, Cia would have avoided some troubles if she had done just that. But I really cannot hate a character for being a better person than myself. Cia's kindness doesn't keep her from stepping up to the plate and joining the rebellion. In fact, it's her steadfast principles that cause her to fight so strongly against The Testing. She wants the United Commonwealth to be great, but it can't achieve that with the way The Testing is. After suffering through countless female protagonists who hem and haw about joining rebellions; who become reluctant rebel leaders, it was so refreshing to have a female protagonist who wanted to make a difference. Cia does struggle a little bit with just wanting to get on with her life; of trying to ignore what's happening. But her principles make her realize that she simply can't; something must be done. And she steps up. I couldn't hate Cia at all. Tomas, too, supports Cia in her decision to join the rebellion. Which is yet another refreshing turn! It seems like in YA fiction nowadays, if a girl wants to help fight oppression, the male gets all mad and doesn't want to join the fight. Tomas isn't like that, thank goodness. I liked Michal well enough in The Testing, but I really liked him in this one. He was just awesome. And all of the new characters were awesome, too: Ian, Cia's final year student guide, who I just adored; Damone and Griffin, two new creeps who were genuinely creepy - especially Damone; Enzo and Raffe, some other students who I also adored, though I'm not sure I totally trust them. I'm not sure exactly what it is about this go-around, but the characters did feel more developed, more in depth, more complicated.

The Romance: Guess what! There's not a love triangle! Believe it or not, but Cia is actually able to care a great deal about other guys - and handsome ones at that - and still have a totally platonic relationship with them! Go figure! Like with The Testing Tomas and Callie's relationship is there, but not the main focus. Tomas actually isn't in Independent Study all that much. Yes, they have a few moments of misunderstanding and disagreement, but they solve it maturely and it doesn't drag on. I still really like Cia and Tomas together, and I'm glad nothing seriously disrupts their relationship.

Plot: Cia has survived the brutal Testing. They wiped her memory, but she has found a recording - a recording with her voice telling her all about what happened during The Testing. Cia isn't sure if she believes it, but when she finally assigned to her area of study, it becomes clear that The Testing isn't the only trial she will have to undergo. The university itself is another form of The Testing, and Cia is being set up to fail. But when Cia is approached by a rebel faction to use her position to gather evidence to bring down The Testing, she doesn't hesitate to accept. But between her nine classes, internship, making allies, and gathering information, Cia can't afford to slip even once - nor can she ask for help from her few friends, lest she bring them to the attention of the United Commonwealth. I have to admit that Cia's workload made me a bit exhausted. Nine classes, an internship, making allies while dodging her enemies, spying for the rebels - I'm not sure how she did it all! I suppose I should complain in the believability section - it's more than one person could handle. But it's already been established that Cia is freakishly smart and task-oriented. The plot of Independent Study isn't quite as interesting as The Testing. There's less death, fewer shocking moments, and lots of studying for classes. But the world did feel more fleshed out, and it felt like there was more at stake. Cia was being set up to fail - deliberately - and while I was pretty sure she wouldn't fail, the possibility was still certainly there. The Author surprised me with a few twists; I couldn't put it totally past her to actually make Cia fail and have to go on the run or something. Mostly, though, Independent Study is used to set Cia's position up as a potential rebel leader. Cia doesn't spend a lot of time hemming and hawing about whether or not she wants to help the rebels, but as she finds more out about the whole university program, we see her grow into a leadership role. I personally enjoyed it.

Believability: Not applicable.

Writing Style: First person, present tense. Cia is a fine narrator; I didn't mind being locked inside her head. The style itself isn't bad or extremely wonderful. It works well enough.

Content: None.

Conclusion: So the Author did a couple of things I wasn't expecting. [Spoiler] She killed off Michal. I didn't see that coming at all. [End spoiler] [Spoiler] Cia starting her own rebel faction. I saw Symon betraying the rebels coming; that was fairly obvious. But I didn't expect Cia to take over that much. [End spoiler] In a lot of ways (and I know someone will shout at me for saying this), I actually like this trilogy better than The Hunger Games. Mostly because Cia is such a better protagonist. Don't get me wrong - I liked Katniss in the first book. Her emotional trauma is even understandable. But I got so tired of her rebelling against the idea of helping bring the Capitol down. Katniss, guess what - you don't have a choice anymore! Just do it! Cia does do it. She knows there's nothing else to be done and so she commits. The world Panem is more interesting, and the Games better than the Testing. But a likable protagonist who doesn't complain, who doesn't spend an entire book sedated can make so much of a difference.

Recommended Audience: Girl-and-guy read, sixteen-and-up, fans of dystopian, and who didn't like Katniss will probably enjoy this novel.

Others in This Trilogy:
1)The Testing
2)Independent Study
3)Graduation Day

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