Independent Study – Joelle Charbonneau


In the series debut The Testing, sixteen-year-old Cia Vale was chosen by the United Commonwealth government as one of the best and brightest graduates of all the colonies . . . a promising leader in the effort to revitalize postwar civilization. In Independent Study, Cia is a freshman at the University in Tosu City with her hometown sweetheart, Tomas—and though the government has tried to erase her memory of the brutal horrors of The Testing, Cia remembers. Her attempts to expose the ugly truth behind the government’s murderous programs put her—and her loved ones—in a world of danger. But the future of the Commonwealth depends on her.


Um… WOW. This is the perfect bridge book. It builds off the first and leads right into the last one. I’m glad to see that all my wishes from the first book were answered.

This book is extremely reminiscent of many other dystopian novels, and has all the standard dystopian tropes. The induction is a lot like Initiation in Divergent—interesting, but irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Considering this was the second book, it felt like a waste of time/unnecessary hardship and more like an introduction to the characters than anything else (much like the Quarter Quell in Catching Fire). The thing is, Cia’s life has been so HARD. I wish she could cut a break sometime or another. Why does EVERYONE have to be out to get her? Why does EVERYONE have to hate her? The Damone conflict was tiresome since it was so trivial. It reminded me of Al’s role in Divergent, except Al was actually a friend. Oh, speaking of Divergent parallels, the government building HAD to be separated by a “chasm” equivalent. Of course. That seems like terrible city planning, although it could keep people away from the Government Studies kids if necessary.

Back to the Induction—its main purpose seemed to be to introduce the characters and build up tension. I was hoping it would be like regular university-club hazing, or the Capture the Flag moment in Divergent. Those were interesting mind-games. I loved the door challenge, but the scavenger hunt was weak to me. It was too similar to The Testing, but implied that upperclassmen (future government leaders) were as sadistic as current leaders. They either didn’t remember The Testing, didn’t participate in it, or condoned its dangers. I wish we got to see more of Cia’s studies instead. Professor Lee mentioned a challenge for specific students who excelled in the class, and I wish those kinds of tasks were explored more. Or tasks like the first assignment she got from the President. Tests that had to do with Cia’s mind, not tests of fear, weapons, and danger. I would’ve loved to see Cia try to make friends and build up trust with people through daily interactions. Also, considering how much she built up her nine-course load, it was really strange how she didn’t seem to have to study at all (having time for a lot of… extra-curricular work) near the end of it.

Let’s talk about some of the characters. LOVED IAN. He seemed so charming. His relationship with Cia seemed very Finnick-and-Katniss in The Hunger Games. Please, more Ian! I have such a soft spot for Enzo too. He was like Cia’s little smart sidekick. He seemed to have a more tumultuous past than most city kids, and I’d love to know more about him. Will, I still don’t trust. Tomas, I have mixed feelings about. They’re a lot less lovey-dovey in this book, and I feel pretty distanced from him now. I don’t think he really deserves Cia, but I hope he proves me wrong in the third book. Raffe, for some reason, is hard for me to trust too. I’m not sure why.

I am so happy about Zeen. I cannot wait to see where this leads. YES.

On the other side of the coin, I am so sad about Michal. I was blindsided by the events at the end of the book, but they made perfect sense. What better way to deal with a rebellion? Symon’s actions in The Testing don’t make much sense anymore though. I wish Cia, Raffe, and Michal had given the recordings to the president directly. Wouldn’t that have served their purpose without any middlemen? I really want to trust the President in the next book. Perhaps a corrupt government isn’t all bad (what a refreshing change!). I hope Cia becomes close to her too.

The whole means-of-resolving-conflict thing is really interesting. Cia can still pull off Symon’s peaceful plan, even if others don’t plan to go through with it. That will be so different from other dystopian books that resolve conflicts with more conflict. It won’t do anything. This book brings up the problems with current policymaking and justice (so true that figureheads don’t necessarily hold all the power), and it would be amazing to see that kind of thing work out for once.

I have really high hopes for Graduation Day. We’ll see what happens.

Related Reading

  • You have to read The Testing – Joelle Charbonneau first (this is the second book in the series)
  • Divergent – Veronica Roth (initiation parallels)
  • Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins (The Testing is akin to The Hunger Games, and Independent Study is like Catching Fire)
  • Other dystopian books; but written better and hopefully with a different kind of resolution

Rating: 5/5


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