Joelle Charbonneau

Independent Study

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Independent Study Summary

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Published in 2014, Independent Study is the second novel in the young-adult science-fiction trilogy The Testing by American author Joelle Charbonneau. Set in Tosu City, the dystopian novel resumes the schooling of Malencia Vale (Cia) six months after graduating the Early Studies Program. Now, as Cia’s memory has been erased and she’s been assigned a hefty course load to determine her role in rebuilding civilization, Cia and her boyfriend, Tomas, recall the past in order to expose the horrific truth behind the United Commonwealth government and its deadly programs. Along the way, Cia must fend off mistrust and paranoia, wading through a series of double-crosses and back-stabbings en route to liberating the truth. Independent Study has been called “fast-paced…right to the cliffhanger ending” by Booklist, and “a twisty story that hits the mark” by Publishers Weekly.

Narrated in the first person by Malencia Vale (Cia), the story resumes six months after The Testing. Cia is one of twenty students who passed The Testing, and as a result, her memory has been wiped. However, thanks to her brother’s Transit Communicator, Cia was able to record fragments of what happened to her during the grueling Testing period. Those who did not pass The Testing have been “redirected,” which Cia believes to mean they were sent home or relocated for work. Now a freshman at Tosu University, located in the former Wichita, Kansas, Cia has been assigned a nine-class course load, while the other freshmen are only assigned six. After an eight-hour exam, Cia is placed on the career path of Government studies, her last choice. Cia’s boyfriend, Tomas Endress, is placed in Biological Engineering. Cia’s friend Will is placed in Government; Stacia in Medicine; while Obadiah Martinez is redirected.

Cia can’t believe the horrors of her recorded memories, so she attempts to prove them with her own eyes. When Cia sees Obadiah’s dead body being carried out by government officials, she realizes the term “redirected” is a euphemism for murder. Intent on stopping the murders and uncovering the truth about the United Commonwealth, Cia tries to flee Tosu. She is confronted by Michael Gallen, who explains she cannot leave. Cia learns Dr. Jedidiah Barnes is the one ordering “redirections.” When Michael suspects Cia of recalling memories, he tells her of a man named Symon Dean who leads the rebellion to end the Testing program. Michael assures Cia that Dr. Barnes will be replaced and, under new management, the Testing process will no longer end in murder. Michael implores Cia to continue her studies; if she wins an internship, she could provide valuable information to the rebels in order to stop the Testing for good. With only one open spot and sixteen applicants, the internship isn’t easy for Cia to attain.

As Cia continues her studies, she isn’t sure whom to trust. She is afraid to see Tomas at length; fearing to put him in danger, she asks that he leave her alone to perform her perilous tasks by herself. Cia aces her Initiation test. She is assigned her final-year mentor, Ian Maas, whom Cia realizes has been sent to her by Michael to help advance the rebel cause. In her second round of testing, Cia is chosen as a team captain to lead three others with the goal of capturing four markers. Cia chooses Will, Enzo, and Damone. After solving a series of dangerous puzzles, Cia’s team wins the Induction challenge, returning to the Government Studies building before anyone else. The failing team isn’t so lucky – its members are redirected. For her excellence, Cia is granted an internship with United Commonwealth President, Annaline Collindar.

Collindar laments the poor graduation rate at Tosu and asks Cia to trust her. Cia finds Michael waiting in Collindar’s office; he explains what is happening inside the government. He tells Cia that Collindar is in charge in name only – Dr. Barnes is the one who chooses which students undergo Testing to determine future leaders of the country. Collindar wants to regain power over the program to make it a legitimate government cause. Michael secretly aims to stop this plan, which could unseat Collindar as president. Collindar wants the rebellion to end peacefully, while rebel leader Ranetta Janke wants to take violent action. According to Symon Dean, the only way to win over the Debate Chamber and force change is to present visual or audio evidence proving the murderous methods of the Testing Program.

Since Cia spotted something suspicious during the final Induction phase, she believes the rebels are camped near an airfield outside Tosu. She rides a bicycle to the scene one night to investigate but is attacked by Damone. Damone, who would rather see his fellow students murdered during Testing as it would reduce competition, tries to kill Cia. Raffe appears and saves Cia just in time. Cia calls Michael to tell him that her suspicions about the rebels have been confirmed. With time running out before a vote on the Debate Chamber takes place, Cia seeks evidence to present to President Collindar. Tomas and Raffe provide the proof Cia needs by retrieving the recordings hidden in their bracelets. Cia gives the evidence to Michael, who intends to pass it over to Symon and the rebels. Cia and her pals follow behind, remaining hidden. When Michael gives the evidence over, he is shot dead by Symon. Cia then overhears Symon conspiring with Dr. Barnes and others to sow a fake rebellion, thereby maintaining the status quo. There was never a true rebellion, only a sham. In the end, spotting her brother Zeen among the misled rebels, Cia communicates with him via the Transit Communicator.

Independent Study is followed by Graduation Day, the final entry of Charbonneau’s The Testing Series. Charbonneau has written several other novels, including Need, Time Bomb, Murder for Choir, The Eden Series, and The Skating Series.