This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.
I wouldn’t normally read the sequel to a book I disliked, as was the case with The Testing. But I was excited to read that book, and some weird fluke made both The Testing and Independent Study available at BEA last May, so I eagerly snapped up both ARCs. The Testing was a big disappointment, but since I already had the sequel in my hands, I decided to give it a read. Some of the problems with the first book (such as the endless descriptions of written examinations) were less of a factor here, but the sequel presented its own new issues.
I was feeling optimistic near the beginning of the book, as it is packed with action. Cia and the other students in the Testing program are split up into teams in a Survivor-style test of mental and physical challenges, but these have the added element of being potentially fatal. The competitions were quite clever and fun to read, although I still can’t figure out why the administrators go to such length to pick out potential leaders from among the best and the brightest, only to risk killing many of them. Nevertheless, the story’s flaws soon became apparent, beginning with Cia. This girl is infallible. She’s smarter than everyone else. She sees what no else can see. She deduces what no one else can deduce. She succeeds where everyone else fails miserably. I have no idea why the author decided to portray her like this, because when we know ishe is always going to come out on top, no matter what obstacles are in her way, why should we care about her? And despite her ability to win at everything in life, Cia still manages to be horribly dull and uninteresting.
If Cia’s superhuman intelligence wasn’t enough, she’s got a large group of supporting characters to help her out. She’s always in the right place at the right time to witness or overhear critical events and conversations. When that’s not possible, a character steps out and delivers a ten minute monologue to catch Cia up to speed. Potential allies seek her out even before she can identify them. The bad guys make their evil intentions known early and loudly.
But if Cia is so smart, why does she make dumb decisions when it comes to defending her life? She does everything possible to avoid engaging in violence, even when someone is trying to kill her. Only when she is actually moments from death will she finally make the most meager of attempts to defend herself. But this is presented as a symbol of Cia’s goodness, rather than as an example of nearly fatal stupidity. Even then, she can’t quite finish the job, and someone else must step in to finish the attacker while Cia is consumed with guilt and regret.
I probably could have saved myself some trouble and skipped ahead to the ending of the book, because an event in the last couple of pages negates much of the plot, forcing a reset for the third book. It also gives off VERY heavy whiffs of the ending of Catching Fire, and when I read the Goodreads synopsis for Graduation Day, it seems clear that it’s positioned to be a sorry retread of Mockingjay.