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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 motives 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. 

3.5/5 stars. Dystopian, Young Adult, Tests.

In Independent Study, the second book in The Testing series by Joelle Charbonneau (find the review to book one here), Cia is excited to start studying at the University, essentially getting her general education requirements before the staff determines what field of study she should go into. While she doesn’t remember The Testing due to the memory wipe enacted after the completion of the Test, Cia still has faint feelings from experiences during the Testing, including attraction to some people, like Stacia, and Tomas, who is her boyfriend.

After she gets her field of study, Government, her least favorite choice, wanting Mechanical Engineering, she begins uncovering secrets that might put her life in danger.

A recording device she finds in her bags has her voice on it, whispering what supposedly happened during The Testing, but Cia can barely believe it and the high stakes her and her friends from the colonies had to battle to get to the University. In The Testing, a wrong answer or a failed test, according to the recording, was fatal. The second thing she learns is what Redirection means, a ‘changing of path’ for those who did not fit into any field of study because they weren’t good enough.

She wants to leave. She is scared, but the more secrets she uncovers, like two rebel factions trying to change the Testing process, she knows the knowledge she posses can’t be wasted.

With more classes assigned to her than the rest of her peers, an internship, a relationship, and people watching her, Cia has to keep up her grades, an image that shows she isn’t collapsing under the pressure, and solve all the mysteries she can to the prevent the future she is worried will come to pass.

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Man, these books do things to me. I love learning. I love having deadlines made by other people (because then I actually stick to them!). I love a schedule. I love sitting in a library and checking things off my list of work to do. I love feeling smart and accomplished. When reading this book, I was on summer vacation and it made me so jealous that I wasn’t in school. Heck, I wanted to feel some of the pressure Cia was, just so I could feel like I was doing something. Sure I love reading and watching tv and sleeping and relaxing, but I cannot enjoy those things when they are handed to me in abundance. Few hours to enjoy them make them all that more precious. So this book made me desperate to get back to class.

It also made me visualize a dorm situation similar to Hogwarts or The Magicians (guilty of watching the show but not reading it). Like, two things with magic? I don’t know why these books would link to magic in my head, unless all magic dormitories have commonplaces with couches and fireplaces for students to lounge around and enjoy each other’s company.

Like in the first book, I was drawn to Cia’s character. She is so dedicated and such a worrier – which allows her to think out multiple situations before they happen so she can have answers to all of them and therefore finds the answers she is in need of. She’s smart and serious and not that funny. She is internal, prefers working alone, is both independent and desperately requires the company of those closest to her. She is so tangible. I may not be be able to see her or hear her voice, but I certainly know what she is thinking, even away from the page.

One of the strange things about this series is how we get to know Cia so well but the other characters so little. There is an internalization of character which makes the other characters kind of disappear. While there are other characters in a scene, so much time is spent in Cia’s head that we don’t get to know the other characters. In most scenes, there are a ton of characters, but we don’t get to spend enough page time with them that we fail to get a good idea of who they are or develop emotions for those characters.

I think this is where my problem with Tomas, the boyfriend, stems from. He has been with Cia from the very beginning. From before the beginning. He had been there for Cia almost as long as Gale has been there for Katniss, almost for as long as Simon has been there for Clary Fairchild. Yet I don’t care what happens to him. Cia tells us that she would. She obviously relies on the strength he provides her constantly, but we just don’t care. I don’t know if this is because Cia has had doubts about him in the past, or what, but I just can’t get attached to him in the way I know I am intended to.

In the beginning, during the first book, I figured Tomas would be one of those characters quickly killed off, to provide some sort of emotional pull in the reader because Cia felt for him, and then later she would develop another relationship much stronger that would last for a ton more pages.

That said, while I am a sucker for all the romance, I kind of like that Tomas is a constant. There wasn’t really any relationship building. They just were and they basically always will be. There isn’t a love triangle. The focus on the story is the studies and the fates of the students. A relationship is not the important thing here, which – seriously – if you find out your classmates are being killed if they aren’t good enough and know that people are trying to expose you, figure out what is not quite right about you and what you may or may not know, I don’t know anyone could even really think about a relationship or getting anything.

That is the other thing that I like about their relationship. They hold hands, they kiss, but they don’t sneak off to have steamy make out sessions. It’s basically just like, “He kissed me goodbye.” That’s essentially it. They are satisfied with where they are at in their relationship and don’t need more. They have enough other things to focus on than learning more of each other’s skin.

However, to counter that, it makes me think again that they maybe don’t really care that much about each other. Seems that if they really liked each other, they would want to do a bit more exploring, rather than sitting under trees and quizzing each other on test questions (which we hear about but never really see).

On another note, Cia seems to make some guesses at things that might be happening in the future that doesn’t seem realistic, like the Redirected students (students who made it to the University but were later deemed ‘unworthy’ or ‘not a good fit’ for the University, and were removed from the campus).

She gets the idea in her head that the worst is not happening to these Redirected students, yet she always suspects the worst in other situations and have seen it happen. If Cia was a pessimist and saw good things happening she didn’t expect, I could see her eventually making an assumption that something other than the worst might be happening to Redirected students. Or if she was more of an optimist through the rest of the books, but she isn’t.

I’m wondering if this is a hint for the next book, or just something that is mentioned to throw us.

However if it is something that does happen in the next book, I think it might be better served as a moment where Cia has been outwitted. Even if she is extremely smart – as we have been shown – it is unrealistic that she figures everything out before it happens. I was getting a little curious at all the things Cia kept immediately getting right in this book. I was questioning her. It felt like she had prior knowledge and I started thinking about the author writing Cia, and that is how Cia would know, because the author is providing her with information that an average person wouldn’t have had. Me thinking like that is bad news. It means that the character is becoming paper thin and the author is visible. That shouldn’t happen. Instead, I should be completely convinced that the character has this story in her hands, and she is the one directing it, making her own decisions, with only the knowledge she has.

But maybe I’m just not as smart as Cia.

Cia solidified for me again when there was a huge moment at the very end Cia did not expect. Honestly, this thing was unexpected to me, as well, which was incredibly satisfying. Although, again, I wish the side characters were more completely developed so that things like betrayal, harm, or death would make more of an impact on the reader.

I haven’t stayed up into the wee hours of the morning with a book in a long time – dreams and sleep have just been too fascinating to pass up – but this series had me desperate to keep reading, even when I couldn’t. And in those moments when I couldn’t, I thought about them. What might happen next? Who really are these characters? What would I do in this situation?

This one was slightly less appealing than the first (and the last now that I have read it), but one of the better dystopian series out there. Not gonna lie, still probably preferred The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Maze Runner series more from the start, but hey, lots of dystopia. Oh and definitely The Fifth Wave and The Darkest Minds. Sorry, not sorry, dystopia is my genre. My list of favorites is miles long.

Find the review to The Testing, book one, here.

3 thoughts on “Independent Study (The Testing #2) by Joelle Charbonneau

  1. Such a great review Kailyn… honestly I feel like I read it with you! I read The Testing and was intrigued by the cliff hangery ending but then forgot to read the next?! I’m just like you though that I love the pressure of deadlines and having things to do so I really related to your reading experience… I love dystopian genre so I’m th8nk8ng I should read this one… isn’t there a 3rd book…are you going to read it too? ♥️


    1. Thank you! And yes there is a third book in the series, Graduation Day. My review for that one comes out on October 16th. I gave that one a 4/5 stars. Dystopias are my absolute favorite genre! Probably about 50% of what I read, considering there is YA contemporary, fantasy, science fiction, classics, and all those other genres out there, lol.

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