Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Trust No One: Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau

"It's such a waste. He could have been one of the stars of this class. There should be another way."

"Procedures are in place for a reason, MayLin."

My heart leaps into my throat. That voice belongs to Dr. Jedidiah Barnes. "The country can't afford to change course now. Not when we are finally beginning to make progress. You know what to do with him."

I peer around the corner of the building and my knees give way as I see two officials carrying Obadiah toward the skimmer. His head lolls back. His braids drag the ground. I look for the rise and fall of his chest, but there is none.

The female official who escorted Obadiah appears with a black bag and Obadiah's guitar. She throws them into the skimmer and it lifts off the ground and travels across the barren landscape.

Obadiah is gone. Redirected. Dead. If I am not careful, I will be, too.

Valencia Vale has survived her examinations and the life-or-death Testing in the unrevitalized lands, but as she and the other survivors of the Induction Ceremony prepare to begin their graduate studies in their assigned field, her fears lead her to follow one of the students who has failed, one who is said to be "redirected," presumably sent to one of the colonies to work. From a hidden vantage she discovers in horror that redirection means execution, that any failure on her part can mean, not being sent home to her Five Lake Colony to work with her father in botanical science, but a quick, anonymous death. Failed students are clearly disposable for the Commonwealth.

And as she begins her assignment to governmental studies, Cia realizes that students from the capital, sons and daughters of officials in Tosu City, are not redirected, and she realizes that the odds are against her and other colony students. Assigned nine courses for the first semester, Cia knows that she must excel just to survive.

And then she learns that there is a covert faction, working to overthrow the current government and return the Commonwealth to its mission of justice and redevelopment following the apocalypse that destroyed the United States and most of the world. When Cia receives one of the twelve coveted internships, working under the President of the Commonwealth herself, and is contacted by her brother Zeen, now one of the leaders of the rebels, he tells her that the president is planning to confront the other officials of the Commonwealth with the murder and injustice they use to keep the Tosu City faction in power, and if that initiative fails, a full-scale insurrection will begin.

Cia's father told her to "trust no one," and now she realizes that her fellow students, even Tomas, the one she loves, are capable of conspiring against her to help themselves, and Cia determines that she must escape from the city and join the resistance. But being a rebel means willfully choosing to kill. As she prepares to cross the bridge leading from her residence, Cia thinks about her bleak choices.

I close my eyes and see Rawson, Zandri, Malachi. My Testing roommate Ryme. Other faces I have no names for haunt my sleep. How many have killed without hesitation? How can I face my fellow students each day wondering what horrors they are capable of.

I grip the steel railing and let the chill of the metal fill me. How easy it would be to let the emptiness swallow me. To find release at the bottom. To be welcomed by those I have lost.

But I don't. I take my hand from the rail and step back. This is one choice I will never make.

I look at the University campus--a place built on hope and a promise that those who study here will make this world better. A promise I believe in and will find the strength and courage to fight for. I will do what it takes.

But Cia understands that choosing not to end her own life means that she will be asked to kill others if the insurrection begins. But there is one hope--that she can find physical proof of the cruel deaths officials have arranged for The Testing, evidence strong enough to persuade the Council to return the Commonwealth to justice without overthrow by force.

Joelle Charbonneau's second book in her series, Independent Study (The Testing) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) deals with the struggle for justice in a dystopian society in a devastated world. Unlike many other such novels, including the current Hunger Games series, Cia's struggle is primarily intellectual. Although there are plenty of life-and-death encounters, reaching justice in The Testing series requires more than strength and fighting skill. Intelligence and an ethical compass are the powers which author Charbonneau highlights, and she mostly succeeds in creating believable young characters, removing the layers of the personality to reveal the weaknesses and strengths of the human heart. There are plenty of dangerous trials and cliffhanging episodes to keep young adult science fiction action fans absorbed throughout the narrative, but Cia's choice of which side to join and which others to trust provides a theme that is both current and eternal.

My review of the first book in this series, The Testing can be read here, and Joelle Charbonneau's trilogy will conclude with Graduation Day (The Testing),forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in June of 2014.

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