Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau – Book Review

Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau
Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

I previously reviewed the first book in this series, The Testing, this review will include spoilers for The Testing.

Cia made it through the Testing, but now that she has a record of what she went through during that time – most of the participants were made to forget it – she is constantly uneasy. Will her next mistake cost her her life? Things don’t get any easier when Cia is placed in her learning program. First she is assigned an unheard of number of classes, and then she is put through an initiation by the older students in her program. As things escalate, Cia becomes increasingly determined to figure out just what exactly is going on and who – if anyone – she can trust.

Independent Study is perhaps not quite as action packed as The Testing, but this is to be expected for the second book in the trilogy. What impresses me is that it doesn’t suffer from the mid-series slump, despite being quite a bridge book between what happened in The Testing and what is coming in Graduation Day. Charbonneau keeps up a good amount of action, particularly with the initiation rites. At the same time, Cia and the reader are able to gain measure of insight into what exactly is happening in the United Commonwealth.

Independent Study continues the story of The Testing and sets up Graduation Day while managing to tell its own story as well. This makes for a very nice middle of the series book. Recommended.

For more information, please see the publisher’s page.
Source: Author.

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The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau – Book Review

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

For as long as she can remember, Cia has dreamed of being selected for The Testing and going to University. After all, her father is a University graduate, and if he had not been selected, he would never have met her mother and she wouldn’t even exist. Not to mention, Cia is a born engineer; she can fix or rig just about anything. However, nobody from the Great Lakes Colony has been selected for The Testing for years, and on the day of graduation it seems that the rumor of an official from Tosu City attending their graduation is just that, a rumor. When an official shows up the next day and selects four graduating students, nobody is more surprised or excited than Cia – at least until Cia’s father tells her the few horrific things he remembers about his own experience with The Testing. Now that Cia has exactly what she always wanted she must face the fact that it may not be what she thought it was.

The Testing  will be compared to The Hunger Games, absolutely without question (I’m writing this in January, so if the comparisons start in April or May, my apologies for seeming behind the ball). There are definite similarities: selections, plus a brutal survival setting that, to some extent, pit young people against one another. That being said, The Testing is no The Hunger Games knockoff. Charbonneau has created an intriguing world, perhaps most intriguing because it is not clear just how dystopian it is. Clearly something is rotten in the United Commonwealth, but whether it is completely corrupt or whether this is simply a case of the road to hell being paved with good intentions isn’t clear.

Here are some of my favorite things about The Testing:

  • Cia is a kick-ass, largely self-taught engineer.
  • Cia being both a girl and an engineer is not a big deal, it just is.
  • No love triangle!
  • Cia is smart, strong, and the heroine of her own story.

The Testing is a really promising start to Charbonneau’s first YA trilogy. I can’t wait to read the second book. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Crossed by Ally Condie – Audiobook Review

Crossed by Ally Condie, narrated by Kate Simses and Jack Riccobono
Published in audio by Penguin Audio, published in print by Dutton Juvenile, imprints of Penguin

I previously reviewed the first audiobook in this series, Matched.


From the publisher:

In search of a future that may not exist and faced with the decision of who to share it with, Cassia journeys to the Outer Provinces in pursuit of Ky – taken by the Society to his certain death – only to find that he has escaped, leaving a series of clues in his wake.

Cassia’s quest leads her to question much of what she holds dear, even as she finds glimmers of a different life across the border. But as Cassia nears resolve and certainty about her future with Ky, an invitation for rebellion, an unexpected betrayal, and a surprise visit from Xander – who may hold the key to the uprising and, still, to Cassia’s heart – change the game once again. Nothing is as expected on the edge of Society, where crosses and double crosses make the path more twisted than ever.

Thoughts on the story:

So, the reason I used the publisher’s description here is that nothing much really happens during Crossed. Yes, Cassia searches out Ky in the border provinces, but even as they are both living much more difficult lives than they ever did in the heart of the Society, and yet it seems that nothing occurs. Basically the entire thing is a set up for the third book in the trilogy. What Crossed does have going for it, though, is that we learn a great deal about Ky’s history, and about just how deep the uprising against the Society really goes. This set up is promising for Condie’s next book, however.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Kate Simses is still a great casting call for Cassia. She is young-sounding enough to be convincing as a teenager, and conveys the teenage drama well without making it overly angsty. I was somewhat less impressed by Jack Riccobono. He is ever so slightly old-sounding for Ky and is a bit ridiculous when trying to give voice to Cassia during Ky’s sections. Simses does a much better job doing voices for the boys surrounding Cassia.

The sound effects in Crossed are not used as judiciously as they are in Matched. They are nearly absent in Crossed until a point near the end where music is used for no apparent reason. It is quite odd, really.


I have to hope that the last book in this trilogy will be told exclusively from Cassia’s point of view, so that Kate Simses can narrate the entire audiobook. Other than this, Crossed was very much the transitional book for this series and, although it was not nearly as strong as Matched, it is setting up what will hopefully be a very interesting conclusion. If you liked Matched, you probably need to read this before the third book is released.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Library.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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When She Woke by Hillary Jordan – Book Review

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Published by Algonquin Books

After The Great Scourge, abortion is considered an especially heinous crime as the country tries to recover its birthrate. Women who get abortions have their skin turned red through the process of melochroming, a sentence that eliminates the need for the government to house the convicted, while still allowing the citizenry to feel safe from criminals. Hannah Payne finds herself a Red after aborting her baby. She would never have done so, but if she had given birth to a child out-of-wedlock, she would have been compelled to name the father, and she simply cannot do that to the man she loves. Naming her child’s father would have destroyed both his personal and public life. Now Hannah must decide what life looks like as the shamed woman she now is.

When she woke, she was red. Not flushed, not sunburned, but the solid, declarative red of a stop sign. -p. 1

If Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale had a slightly futuristic baby, it would be When She Woke. Jordan makes it quite clear that this is a retelling of The Scarlet Letter, not only giving Hannah a situation and name very similar to Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne, but when Hannah is compelled to name the baby she would have had, she calls her Pearl, which was Hester’s daughter’s name as well.

Unlike Hawthorne, however, Jordan is not content to deal just in the themes of sin and legalism. Instead, she goes deeper into her protagonist’s life to focus on personal choice, agency, and faith. At one time Hannah was a faithful, Christian girl in a conservative society. After her fall for something that initially seemed so heaven-sent, she has an entirely understandable crisis of faith and must decide whether she and God have abandoned one another, or if she can make sense out of her faith and what her life has become.

While there are some moments of the book that lose steam, the story is an incredibly compelling one overall, and a likely a modern classic in its own right. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Wither by Lauren DeStefano – Mini Book Review

Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

This is the first book in the Chemical Garden trilogy.

Okay, so, here’s the deal. I read Wither months and months ago and the review got put off and put off, because I had some major issues with the book, and the negative reviews are never fun to write. The writing was perfectly good, but the main character was annoying and the world that DeStefano created didn’t make a heck of a lot of sense to me.

Before I go any further, here’s the publisher’s synopsis from Indiebound:

By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children.

When Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can’t bring herself to hate him as much as she’d like to. He opens her to a magical world of wealth and illusion she never thought existed, and it almost makes it possible to ignore the clock ticking away her short life. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange world is what it seems. Her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on finding the antidote, is hoarding corpses in the basement. Her fellow sister wives are to be trusted one day and feared the next, and Rhine is desperate to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive. Will Rhine be able to escape–before her time runs out?

Together with one of Linden’s servants, Gabriel, Rhine attempts to escape just before her seventeenth birthday. But in a world that continues to spiral into anarchy, is there any hope for freedom?

It had the potential to be a really interesting story, especially as it was repeatedly compared to The Handmaid’s Tale. This world was much more one created by circumstances, however, as opposed to malevolent forces within the government. We’ve got science-created shortened lifespans and most of the rest of the world allegedly destroyed by melting ice caps, but Rhine is kidnapped and taken to Florida, which is evidently not underwater (yup, you read that right).

My biggest issue was with the technology. I could have accepted a lack of many of the technologies that we know now had society fully collapsed after the geneticists screwed things up, but there was some pretty elaborate technology and yet nobody even mentioned a computer.

I’m also not completely convinced that there were need to be Gatherers to kidnap girls and take them to these polygamous marriages. Rhine and so many other girls were living in constant fear of being murdered for the little food they had, or alternatively starving to death. In contrast, her life for Linden is pampered and easy, if somewhat constrained. It seems that there would be hungry girls vying for these spaces, if only to get by.

Wither got a lot of love when it came out, but I am relieved to find that I am not the only one to have had serious issues with it (and everyone seems confused about the Florida thing). There is a very interesting review on Goodreads that goes into even more detail, and points a few things out that I missed.

I think I’d be interested if DeStefano tried her hand at something contemporary, but I’m less than impressed with her world creating, and I don’t think I’ll be reading the rest of the Chemical Garden trilogy.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Publisher, via GalleyGrab.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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