Book Review – Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau with bonus e-prequel The Testing Guide

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Age Range: 12 and up
Grade Level: 7 and up
Series: The Testing
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (January 7, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0547959206
ISBN-13: 978-0547959207
Amazon Review: 4.4/5 stars

I Purchased this book at a Barnes & Noble.

Book blurb as seen on Amazon:

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.

If you read my review of THE TESTING, then you already know what I think of Charbonneau’s writing. She improved her ability to show-don’t-tell in INDEPENDENT STUDY, but added several more irritations to my list, but I’ll only talk about two. First, she would describe a decimated area:

To the southwest, I see grass, shriveled trees, and grayish soil. An area yet to be revitalized.

That in itself, not so bad. I’m sure you’re thinking, “What’s her problem?” But Charbonneau did this numerous times. She does an excellent job of painting a picture, then TELLS the reader it is an unrevitalized area. She’s not trusting the reader to understand what she is saying.

Next, there are pages of description, world building, and back story for things that don’t really matter. For example, she takes almost two pages to explain why there are chicken coops at the University. Two pages. Like it even matters. And that wasn’t the only time, but I won’t list them all. The point is she succumbed to the second-novel-syndrome of writing whatever you feel like because it’s going to get published anyway. J.K. Rowling can get away with this. Christopher Paolini can get away with this. Charbonneau can not.

Okay, I’m done. Now I’ll just talk about the story.

We find Cia at the University, not remembering what happened, but she has discovered the transit communicator and its recordings. Confused and upset, she doesn’t know whether to believe what it tells her, or believe the smiling faces of her University professors. Charbonneau delivers a similar amount of suspense as Cia navigates tests designed to find out if she’ll make a good leader in the United Commonwealth. Lucky for her she never has to fail at anything. I get that she’s intelligent, resourceful and all around amazing, but really, she never fails. Not once that I can remember. I think I would have liked to see her struggle a little more.

Tomas, her love interest, is still present and the reader is left wondering if Tomas had anything to do with Zandri’s death in the previous novel, and whether he took the pills designed to prevent his memory loss. Both plot threads are resolved with very little drama. The only drama is waiting for the reveal. It was fine, and Cia reacted accordingly, but I thought that could have been given more of a plot twist.

We see a little more of Will in this novel, but not much. Since we already know about his character from THE TESTING (though his memory has been erased) he doesn’t show too much in this book. He’ll probably get more playing time in the final book, but I was disappointed to see this left out.

Zeen makes an appearance, which promises some great interaction for the next book, but it was pretty much just a bridge to the finale. Once again, could have used more of him.

We are introduced to a few more interesting characters, which I’m sure is set up for Cia’s team to defeat the Testing in book 3. We also lose a character we’ve come to know and care about, but I won’t say who.

Overall, I’d say this book was mostly set up for book 3. There is some excitement and it was interesting, but since I’m personally having difficulty getting past the lax writing, the adventure didn’t carry it for me this time. Besides, you can only read so much about testing teens before it gets a little old hat. I will probably end up buying the third book when it comes out, but that has more to do with my obsessive need to have a matched set of books on my shelf. And my need to see the story finished. Even if I’m not that interested anymore. I’m hoping it will be like some trilogies where the second book isn’t so great, but the final book ends up being decent.

My review: 2/5 stars


Not much to say here. It was only about a chapter long. And about Cia’s brother, Zeen, which was kind of cool. If it cost anything, I’d say don’t bother, but if you enjoy these books and you want a little insight into Zeen’s character, go ahead and make the download. I won’t even bother giving it stars. There just wasn’t enough to judge.

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Coming June 17th, 2014 . . .

Buy Graduation Day (The Testing) on

Book Review – The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

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Title: The Testing
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Age Range: 12 and up
Grade Level: 7 and up
Series: The Testing
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (June 4, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0547959109
ISBN-13: 978-0547959108
Goodreads: 3.95/5 stars

***WARNING*** There is one spoiler, but I point it out just like this, so you should be able to skip over it if you wish. ***WARNING OVER***

I purchased this book at Barnes and Noble

Book blurb as seen on

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close when they may be one in the same?

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career.

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies–trust no one.

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust

*sigh* If you check out THE TESTING on B&N, you’ll scroll down into oblivion with all the positive critiques, publisher credits and accolades about this book. I know those are designed to sell books, and they aren’t going to give you the negative reviews, but still, it makes me wonder if I’ve been so spoiled by good writing (Rowling, Collins, Lowry, Stiefvater, Green and many more) that I’ve become too critical to enjoy anything that doesn’t measure up.

This here, started out as a rant on how teens need well-written books, but I backspaced it all. I’ll save it for a not-so-far-in-the-future post. Like maybe the next thing I write. Suffice it to say that Ms. Charbonneau could learn a lot from the many Show-Don’t-Tell articles I have pinned to my Pinterest board, The Business of Writing.

The characters were interesting, though there were a lot of them. Too many to fully develop and the attention given to those who did receive character development consisted of things like the character(author) telling us things like I was raised to do this . . . or in my Colony we believe this . . . or in another place the character thinks something along the lines of Tomas is always helpful and kind. He’s never encountered anything else. I’m totally paraphrasing because I didn’t take the time to write things down as I read. I’ll work on that for next time. Point is, the author told us things about the character instead of letting us see their traits through their actions. She didn’t trust us to be smart enough or intuitive enough to see for ourselves. I bet you thought my rant was over. You’re probably in for some more.

I liked Cia and Tomas, the main characters, and there’s no love triangle so that should please those of you who are fed up with love-geometry. Cia is smart, driven and resourceful. I enjoy her going from a wide-eyed girl who sees her world as a good place and wants nothing more than to attend the University, to a young woman who trusts no one but a handful of people and who wants nothing more than to protect her family and friends. Tomas is more interesting in my opinion, because though he is pretty bland as a character, we don’t see the story through his view point and there is an unsolved mystery by the end of the book that brings his character into question. It leaves you wondering what happened, and wanting to know the story through Tomas so we can see what he sees.

As far as the other characters, I’m hoping Cia’s brother, Zeen, plays a bigger role later on, and I’m interested to see what happens with Will. I don’t want to give anything away, but Will has a story I care to hear. Okay, I can’t help it, here’s a spoiler, so don’t read if you don’t want me to give it away ***SPOILER*** Will seems like a really great guy, but turns out to have an evil streak. Still, he can be slightly redeeming and you can almost understand his motivation. Since his memory is wiped of everything he does, he still thinks he’s a good guy. It’ll be fun to see where Charbonneau takes that plot thread, ***SPOILER OVER***

Plot is were this book is strong. Cia must pass The Testing in order to advance to the University. It means financial advantage for her family, though that’s not a drive for her. Mostly it’s about pride in herself, making others proud of her, and her quest for knowledge. Really, Cia is a bit selfish if you think about it. Not in a bad way, but her reasons are a bit more shallow than the kids whose families are starving back home. They’ve worked hard to get selected, not because of vanity, but because of the difference it can make for those they love. Unfortunately, getting selected means possibly never seeing your family again.

What Cia doesn’t know is that the tests are mentally brutal at first, and physically so later on. Failure can mean death or leaving the Testing, and Cia suspects those that leave are permanently disposed of. Not only does she have to do her best to survive, but she has to watch out for her fellow Testing candidates, including some who will do anything to succeed. Almost the entire last half of the book is a action-packed fight for survival that keeps you turning page after page. The stark, harsh world Cia must travel through, badly damaged by many years of war and ravage, presents many challenges in the form of mutated animals, lack of water, dangerous Testing candidates and encounters with mutated humans as well. It’s frightening and not at all unimaginable in the dystopian world Charbonneau creates.

As I said before, there is no love triangle, and the romance aspect is pretty subdued. Cia and Tomas have known each other their whole lives, and they have had previous missed opportunities to explore their connection, but like true-to-life young people, they haven’t always taken the initiative. Their affection and relationship grows naturally and even though Tomas’s integrity is questioned in the end, you are still rooting for them. Though the emotional connection could have been better written, it was at least satisfying in leaving out insta-love, one-true-love and love triangle issues, giving us a couple whose relationship is built on years pf getting to know each other, mutual respect, and affection not rooted in lusting after physical appearances.

THE TESTING calls into question what people will do to survive and succeed, and whether the ends justifies the means. In this, it’s much like The Hunger Games, pitting teenagers against each other in a death-duel to the finish line. It demonstrates what an autocratic society can do to ensure it’s own survival, even at the expense of the lives of children, and makes you think about what is right or wrong when you’re trying to protect the world from the dangers inflicted by the mistakes of past leaders. Charbonneau examines what qualities make up a leader—the good and the bad—and how people think differently about each of those qualities.

Once I got past the C+ writing (I’m being generous), I really enjoyed this book. The story line is captivating and I’m already reading the second book INDEPENDENT STUDY. Doesn’t look like Charbonneau took any writing classes between the two books, so we’ll see if the story carries me through. There’s also a novella THE TESTING GUIDE, but I think Charbonneau and HMH Books already has enough of my money, so I’ll hold off on the e-prequel. I’ll be sure to let everyone know how I feel about the second book soon.

My Review: 3/5 stars

Note: I know I said I wouldn’t be buying the e-prequel, but when I went to link it to this page for others to see I discovered it was free, so naturally, I downloaded it on my Kindle! I’ll give a quick review in conjunction with INDEPENDENT STUDY when I’ve finished.

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Buy The Testing Guide on

Coming June 17th, 2014 . . .

Buy Graduation Day (The Testing) on