Published By: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 2014
Page Count: 310
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Audience: Young Adult - Science Fiction, Dystopian
Independent Study proved a very good follow on to The Testing. I read it immediately after I finished book one, and as such I didn't really need any of the recaps which came in the first chapter. I will not shy away from spoilers for The Testing in this review, as to do so would make this incredibly vague!
Independent Study begins some six months after the dust has settled on The Testing, and we learn that Cia was unsuccessful in retaining her memories of the horrors she survived and the people she was forced to kill. She is now a student at Tosu City University, and happily hanging out with Will, Tomas and some other friends. She is not completely unaware of the past though, as she gets vivid nightmares which plague her every night. She also manages to find the message she left herself, and after hearing this, she becomes a lot more suspicious of her peers; she can't really believe that Will tried to kill her and Tomas, and she just can't resolve Tomas and the likelihood that he is involved in the disappearance of Zandri. To some extent, Cia doesn't want to find out the truth, and she buries her head in the sand.
To progress into the next stage of the University, Cia and her fellow first years have to survive some rather serious exams (an eight hour exam would surely kill me!) and a nightmarish induction process. I really enjoyed the chapters relating to induction - it was another way of bringing back the adrenaline of The Testing without repeating the idea. I also really enjoyed seeing Cia thrust into a leadership role, with a team that she couldn't trust, whilst having to deal with prejudiced & sheltered Tosu City students that hadn't been forced to undergo The Testing procedure. I also really enjoyed the logic that Cia applies to the tasks, in realising the true lessons being delivered to her, hidden behind the actual task. This was very unlike any 17 year old that I've taught though and showed an abnormal level of self-awareness which I did enjoy reading!
The thrust of Independent Study is really Cia struggling with a horrific set of tasks before her, while desperately trying to appear as if she is taking it all in her stride - just in case someone thinks she needs "redirecting", which as far as she can work out might mean leaving in a body bag. Running away is also not an option, as her family are sure to suffer. I found this a compelling problem for her - in the previous book I felt like her reasons for staying were not explored well at all in the beginning - she seemed determined to stay even as things took a deadly turn, and she had no idea that leaving would be punishable. Now the boundaries are crystal clear and she is trapped with the only possible route of escape being to play the evil Dr Barnes at his own game and win. I don't mind that Cia is portrayed as being the brightest student, and that she succeeds a lot... some students are really like that. It might be interesting to see her fail a little, but when failure means death that would give a rather flat and disappointing premature end to the series!
I have already delved into the final book of the trilogy and I'm still really enjoying the ride. This series isn't The Hunger Games, and I don't think it is fair to compare them as it is very hard for other dystopian books to follow that series without being compared and having accusations dropped about possible similarities. If you are writing a dystopian book with a totalitarian leadership and a female protagonist who has to struggle... good luck surviving the comparisons! This series is a very enjoyable, entertaining and thoughtfully written and fans of books like The Hunger Games may well find a lot within these pages to relish.
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.