Exit Exam: Graduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau
Everyone here at the University was chosen to lead. But what I will need to know is that those on my team believe as I do that The Testing must be ended. That those who have worked for the rebellion, thinking they were bringing change, must be saved. That we need new leaders who will change the system to secure the futures of those younger than us who dream of someday being selected.
And if the people I decide to ask to participate in this terrible task are willing to fight for those things, there is still one question that must be answered.
Can they be trusted?
Tomas and I have only one choice. We will need to stage our own Testing.
"Trust no one," Valencia Vale's father had whispered to her as she left for her own Testing in Tosu City, the trial that would determine if she would be admitted to university studies. In the time after nuclear war and environmental collapse have made most of earth near uninhabitable, the leaders of the United Commonwealth have fashioned the Testing and university studies to select for those who are ruthless enough to kill to become part of the ruling oligarchy. Cia believes that failure leads to redirection, which means execution, rather than reassignment of remote colonies. But now she learns that perhaps an even worse fate follows redirection--being used as subjects of genetic studies on the results of the radiation and toxicity that followed the apocalyptic Seven Wars.
Cia had known that her older brother Zeen is one of the leaders of a rebellion planned to overthrow the ruling caste and longed to join with him, but now she also learns the Dr. Holt and Dr. Barnes, directors of The Testing, have spies among the rebels and plan to use their uprising as the premise to take over the government and oust the few leaders who oppose The Testing. And as her trusted intern, Cia was chosen by President Collindar to assassinate Dr. Barnes and seven other leaders who might thwart the ruling Chamber vote to end The Testing.
Now Cia must devise her own testing to make sure that the students she recruits to carry out the assassinations can be trusted to be with her to the death. And Cia knows that her final test will be when she has to face an unarmed Dr. Barnes and kill him in cold blood. Is there no way to avoid doing evil to do good?
But even as she makes that choice, Cia meets one last test when she faces Dr. Barnes.
I wrap my fingers around the gun. I could never have imagined that Dr. Barnes would stand quietly in front of me asking me to take his life.
Is he the monster I have always believed, or someone who is now making the ultimate sacrifice as a means of righting wrongs?
Everything depends on this moment. I need to fire.
I need to kill.
In a post-apocalyptic world in which a society is fighting an uphill battle to restore health and security to its citizens and its reclaimed lands, a benignly-intended but flawed government can easily become dystopian. To provide for survival of the many, some may die, and leaders must be selected who can make those hard choices. It is Lincoln ordering Sherman's March, Truman dispatching the Enola Gay to Hiroshima. Conventional morality and trust are often the first victims in human history, as in Joelle Charbonneau's final book in her trilogy, Graduation Day (The Testing) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014).
This series might facetiously be called Hunger Games for Dorks, a fierce life-or-death competition to determine future leaders through academic and intellectual competitions which test rational decision-making rather than gladiator-style combat. Even so, there is plenty of direct conflict in this series, along with intrigue, espionage, booby-trapped devices, and murder, institutional and personal, along the way to keep the pages turning. Charbonneau's gripping first-person narrative reveals Cia's inner coming-of-age as she deals with issues of ethics and the nature of leadership and governing, the big questions of human society. Wisely, the author's closing is no conclusion, as the task goes on. For young adult readers who think about these issues of civil society--equality and justice and the hard choices that governance requires--this series is not to be missed.
Earlier titles in this series are The Testing and Independent Study: The Testing, Book 2 (see reviews here).