Joelle Charbonneau burst onto the young adult scene with her debut novel, "The Testing." It became an intelligent though rather brutal addition to the YA dystopian series like "Divergent" and "Hunger Games."
This final book in the trilogy, "Graduation Day," continues the story of Cia, a student who has been forced to compete in the process that the government has created to succeed and gain entry into the university. The "Testing" is a brutal set of experiences during which those who are too weak or too emotional either die or disappear. Cia mysteriously manages to pass, but during her time at the university, she discovers many unsettling and disturbing facts about the whole system and the government that allows it to exist.
The third book ties up all the loose ends -- but it also does much more. Cia again must make some life-changing decisions, literally. She must decide who will live and who will die. Yet readers will not be surprised that she approaches the problem as she has approached every problem she has been faced with in the series. She is thoughtful and logical, but she also uses her instincts.
Cia is the first person narrator and the narrative rings true. It's an effective device because Cia is able to share her thoughts, and her many doubts, with the reader directly. She is not sure of some of the decisions she makes, and isn't that like real life? We make decisions based on the information we have, careful thought, and our instincts.
A caveat: Be sure to reread or at least skim the second book in the series, "Independent Study," before reading this book. There are too many references to people and events that may have been forgotten unless the previous book has been read recently.
Charbonneau does something in this series that is very admirable. While she does include the requisite love between Cia and Tomas, a guy from her home, Cia's life is not controlled by the relationship. Throughout the book Cia's actions are based on what is the right thing to do, not based on what will advance her relationship with Tomas or anyone else.
I think that this is important, especially for readers who are in their teens. Life is about making good choices, smart decisions. It's not about doing everything for love. Cia is an excellent role model in that respect and many others.
Why 5 stars? The book was exciting and demanded to be read. I very much like the character traits of the main character, and the ending was satisfying but not saccharine.
Please note: This review is based on the advance reading copy provided by the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for review purposes.
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