Book Review: Graduation Day

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Title: Graduation Day [The Testing 3]

Author: Joelle Charbonneau

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Dystopian

Rating: 3 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

She wants to put an end to the Testing
In a scarred and brutal future, The United Commonwealth teeters on the brink of all-out civil war. The rebel resistance plots against a government that rules with cruelty and cunning. Gifted student and Testing survivor, Cia Vale, vows to fight.

But she can’t do it alone.
This is the chance to lead that Cia has trained for – but who will follow? Plunging through layers of danger and deception, Cia must risk the lives of those she loves–and gamble on the loyalty of her lethal classmates.

Who can Cia trust?
The stakes are higher than ever-lives of promise cut short or fulfilled; a future ruled by fear or hope–in the electrifying conclusion to Joelle Charbonneau’s epic Testing trilogy. Ready or not…it’s Graduation Day.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

What can I say about this book that wasn’t said with the previous two? Not a lot. As always, the main character, Cia, is a brilliant young lady with a strong moral compass (or she was, but we’ll get to that). As far as the technical side of things go, the writing was spot-on. There were no noticeable grammar, spelling, or punctuation mistakes, and the narrative moved at a decent pace (although things were a bit slower in this third installment to the Testing series).

To be honest, I liked the book… I love the series… but this wasn’t the strongest edition to the trilogy. The pace was quite a bit slower this time around and there were a few instances were Cia was so overwhelmed with what was going on around her that her brilliance got a little lost. She made a lot of stupid mistakes in this book. She made some moral choices that probably could have been handled better, and she put her trust in people she probably shouldn’t have. That doesn’t make me love Cia any less as a heroine, but it did make it harder to enjoy her story. I couldn’t help but feel that the core of her character got a little lost.

Also, I’d like to point out that up until the very end of this series (and though I didn’t notice it until I looked back at the series as a whole) a lot of world building was left out. It is never explained why the testing process is so harsh or why it was allowed to continue on in this manner. Life isn’t great in Cia’s world, but I didn’t see anything truly startling (past part of the first book) that indicated any reason why the Testing needed to be as harsh as it was. The world building felt a little empty by the end of the trilogy, and I really wish the author would have delved further into it. There was also a lack of cohesiveness about it. For instance, the characters have all kinds of tiny technology that is being used to track them throughout the series, yet basic infrastructure in the cities is falling apart. The whole place, even the school, is a crumbling mess. Where is this technology coming from? The world Cia lives in feels so insular when you get down to it. Every book in the series is basically the same process of Cia being tested and throw together with the same rag-tag group of kids (though their allegiances are all over the place.. you never know how to trust). The settings are small and confined.

Another gripe I had with this book in particular, is that the ending didn’t feel finished. The accomplishments Cia and her friends made in this series were small, and we don’t see a lot of pay off (outside of them staying alive). We don’t have a chance to see the government be overturned, or the testing truly stopped. We don’t really get to see Cia go home to her family. It feels like there should be another book… and there isn’t.

Overall, I did enjoy the book. I love Cia as a character, and I was interested to see the new ways she was challenged throughout the series, but if you’re looking for a satisfying conclusion, or a fast-paced battle of intelligence and will (as with the previous two books) you’re probably going to be disappointed. In my opinion, this is probably the weakest link in the Testing series.

Book Review: Independent Study

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Title: Independent Study [The Testing 2]

Author: Joelle Charbonneau

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian, Science Fiction

Rating: 4 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Cia Vale survived The Testing, as has Tomas, the boy she loves, and they have both gained admission to the University. She has a promising future as a leader of the United Commonwealth and no memory of her bloody testing experience, thanks to a government-sanctioned memory wipe. Cia should be happy but  is plagued by doubts about the past and future. Determined to find the truth, she embarks on a path of study forbidden by the government delving  into the Commonwealth’s darkest secrets. What she finds is the brutal reality lurking behind the friendly faces of her classmates and the unbearable realization that leaders chosen to protect us can be our greatest enemy.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I have mixed feelings towards this series. I very nearly gave this five stars because I love Cia so much as a main character. She’s an intelligent, heady character (which I’m partial to), and despite being firmly in the YA genre, she doesn’t make a lot of dumb mistakes. It’s a bit of a breath of fresh air from a lot of the YA I’ve been privileged enough to read. The Narrative is clean and well-written, with a lack of any huge errors in the spelling, grammar, and pace.  I also love how despite the brilliance of Cia, the author doesn’t force things to go her way… quite the opposite—life is very difficult for Cia. I was sucked into the story by her constant struggle.

This edition to the series was a bit of a step back from what I’d come to expect. The first book spent a lot of time immersing the reader into Cia’s struggle as she got a glimpse of how truly terrible her government is. I’m not sure what I was expecting to happen when she passed the test, but I certainly didn’t expect her to be pushed farther into testing. The second book was much like the first. The students are thrown into a cycle of testing where they are in constant danger… and while there are a few intelligence-related puzzles, I think in Independent Study, the tests lean more towards the athletic and quick puzzle-solving skills.

Now, what I didn’t enjoy was the cast of characters. I’m not saying they weren’t well written—most of them were—but I had this impending doom sensation through most of the book. It wasn’t easy to tell who’s side the characters were on. I didn’t trust them—any of them. On one hand, that’s awesome! Cia felt the same way… but it would have been nice to have a breather every now and then.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I did feel it was a little too similar to the first in the series. It felt like I was going through the same journey all over again, except Cia didn’t remember that we’d done this all before. It would have been nice to have a change in main plot in one way or another, but that didn’t keep me from thoroughly enjoying the book. If you like YA Dystopian books, you may really enjoy this series. I do recommend it.