Book Review: Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau
This sequel to The Testing is adequate, but nothing special. A bridge to the finale. It's worth reading if the finale is fantastic. I'm crossing my fingers, but I'm not overly optimistic. However, I chose this series as part of my 2015 Reading Challenge, so I'm not giving up two-thirds of the way through.
I'm a little concerned by some of the obvious twists and the cliffhanger ending.
Argh! I know that books in a series will have unanswered questions. Most times, those unanswered questions actually make waiting for the rest of the series worthwhile. I cannot tell you the fun I had speculating about Harry Potter with my friends. But the delivery of this cliffhanger just seems too contrived. It's a message that Cia picks up, but we, the audience, do not get to learn the contents of the message until the third book.
Thankfully, I already have the third book lined up from my library so I can start reading tonight. I do hold out hope that the slower plot of this sequel will pick up pace in the third installment.
Back to those plot points that hold few surprises.
The students who survived the Testing are sorted into their schools. While the students are allowed to make an appeal for a certain program of study, the ultimate decision is made by the University leaders. Once in their school, they meet students from Tosu City, who did not have to endure the Testing. The privileged students from the capital city gain entrance through scholarly aptitude and gain a competitive edge through family connections.
While I initially liked the idea of class warfare between these two different entrance tracks, nothing truly surprising happened as a result of it. Most of the city kids hated the kids from the outlying territories. Some of the city kids found opportunities to eliminate or try to eliminate competitors who they felt were below them. A few city allies were identified.
To build some suspense, Charbonneau has all of the new students compete in an Induction the week prior to classes actually starting. While this Induction is not nearly as grueling as the Testing, every student has the chance to demonstrate their leadership style. That's the point of the University in this world. They are handpicking the elite children to train as the country's future leaders in education, engineering, medicine, and government. While some students shine, others struggle to survive.
Through the Induction and the eventual start of classes, Charbonneau highlights various leadership styles. Cia's narration allows the reader to understand her thought-process behind her decision-making. We see how much Cia struggles with trusting other people. I'm sure that if I were reading this book with a YA book club, there's potential for some lively discussion.
Unfortunately, beyond this discussion of what Charbonneau is trying to say about leaders and leadership, I don't think there's much more to this book.
At one point Cia overhears a conversation where she cannot identify a speaker. Yeah, it's not hard to guess who that speaker may turn out to be. And then when it turns out to be that person, the plot just feels like one letdown after another. It's actually insulting. If I were a teenager, I'd assume that the author must not think much of her audience to make such obvious connections between plot points and characters.
Besides the predictable plot, the characters continue to feel flat to me.
Cia is just some girl from the Five Lakes colony who is smarter than everyone else, so much so that she is given the highest number of classes to attend. Oh my. Then she's handpicked for a special internship, a plot point that any reader can see coming. I don't care if she survives her University years or not.
Her boyfriend Tomas has no outstanding qualities. Seriously. I don't know what purpose he serves in the book because he doesn't do anything useful beyond inventing one technical solution, a plot point that could easily be sourced to another character.
There was one boy, Enzo, who seemed like he could be interesting in a gritty surprising way. He's a city kid, but Charbonneau hints that he's not from an affluent family. He worked his butt off to make the grades to enter the University. Do we get to hear much about him? Nope. Once the Induction is over, he fades to the background.
Here's to hoping that this sequel really is setting up spectacular events in the final book.