Book Review: Graduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau
What a disappointing trilogy The Testing series turned out to be.
If you are looking for dystopian YA reads with some Hunger Games flair, I would not bother with this series. Even though the first book was promising, the second book tanked quickly and this third book dragged out a predictable and unremarkable resolution.
For most of this third installment Cia spent her time perseverating over who she could trust, and whether or not she could carry out orders from the President of the United Commonwealth, orders which were just ridiculous. Like conspiracy theory ridiculous! No leader in their right mind would entrust a teenager with the tasks that President Collindar entrusted to Cia.
Some other plot points bothered me as well. However, many of these points centered around the resolution of the series. To sum up, every conflict was addressed, but each resolution was telegraphed well ahead of time. Sigh.
The characters continued to feel like flat carbon copies of one another. In trying to keep track of who was who, I basically had to keep their names straight because their personalities and actions were so similar. To make things worse, Charbonneau kept throwing in Cia's overthinking whether or not a person could be trusted. Yes. No. Yes. No. Maybe. I didn't care who could be trusted. For the first half of the book, I just wanted something to happen.
While the ideas presented here about leadership could be thought-provoking, Cia oftentimes found herself debating what qualities were the most important in a leader. How cut-throat and decisive must a leader be? While effective leaders cannot bend to continuous people-pleasing, how does a leader determine where the line is for making tough calls for the survival of their country? And then she would ruminate over some other minute plot detail and inevitably throw something else into her bag, which had to be getting increasingly heavy as this revolution loomed.
Throughout the previous two books, Cia was portrayed as a morally upright character. Usually, I like characters who stick to their ideals and understand that the right thing to do is often the harder thing to do. However, she was smarter and better than everyone else. Almost all the time! She even had the patience to understand the limitations of her older brother with most of their communication taking place with the limited abilities of the Transit Communicator...because in a society that has land speeder-like skimmers you could not possibly have cell phones. Sure!
Cia's flaw in this third book? The contradiction in her moral compass. At certain points in the plot, Cia had to test fellow students because she questioned their loyalty. She enlisted the same tactics the Testing system employed on her. Why? Why would a character who had dedicated herself to ending the Testing use the same techniques? I just didn't find her believable.
By the time the revolution was starting, Charbonneau tried to ramp up the romance between Cia and Tomas, which was just another ridiculous characterization. Their relationship was beyond stilted.
At one point when they were getting ready to separate to act upon the ludicrous tasks the President assigned to Cia, Tomas said, "It's only been eight months since we left Five Lakes, but it seems longer. So much has happened. Some of it we understand, and much we don't. But there are two things I am certain of. I love you and you love me. We'll figure out what that means for us after all this is over. Until then, I'm grateful we're here together. Okay?"
Groan! His first sentences just felt unnecessary; maybe an information dump to remind the reader of the setting and the supposed stakes. Then he sounded like he was ready to break into the Barney theme song. And he ended with a trite sentiment. As the reader, was I supposed to believe that these teenagers were about to take actions that would put their lives on the line? Really? With his statement that they could just figure out their relationship later, Tomas made me feel like they were embarking on separate Outward Bound adventures rather than acts of revolutionaries willing to die for their beliefs.
The entire romantic sub-plot felt like an uninspired chemistry-free strategy to fill some pages and try to appeal to teenage girls. If I were a teenage girl, I'm certain I'd be insulted by Charbonneau's pandering and this generic approach to romance.
At another point I was shaking my fist at Cia for her waffling on Stacia. On more than one occasion she revealed how her trusting Stacia was completely based on her understanding of what motivated Stacia. Cia knew that Stacia had been willing to kill because Cia asked her to. And at the end of the book, Cia states that for better or worse Stacia was her friend. No she wasn't. She was a means to an end. She was a minion. She was not your friend...unless you have a strange definition of friendship.
This final installment of the Testing Trilogy was poorly executed. I wonder...if Charbonneau had written her story as one YA book rather than a trilogy, would her pacing and characterization have been better? I'll never know, and I'm certain that I won't trust Charbonneau enough as a storyteller to suck me into any further novels.