What readers find out in the first book is that the Testing that students from "The Colonies" must undergo is deadly -- often making students kill one another in order to survive and win. After it's all over, their memories are erased, but Cia finds she still remembers some of it, and a recorder with recordings she had made before her memory was erased helps her realize the barbarity of the experience.
The students from the Colonies are joined now by students from Tosu City, the city where most of the citizens live after much of the country has been destroyed by war. Those students did not get "tested" like the students from the Colonies did in the first book, but now all students are given another test and placed in areas of studies where they attend classes.
In the beginning of "Independent Study," Cia finds out that the danger is not gone. Students who do not conform might disappear. Cia is overwhelmed with nine classes (the other students are only given six) and she realizes that she is suspected -- but she is not sure of what.
There are factions who want change, but which faction can Cia trust? And there are those students who hate Cia and would like her to fail. She must pick her allies carefully and make some difficult decisions.
Like the first book in the series, this book moves quickly. Cia is a protagonist who will appeal to many. She has strong morals and is determined to do the right thing instead of the expedient thing. And there are many times, of course, when it would be much easier to do what's expedient.
Charbonneau writes as if she has been an author for decades. Her dialogue, her plot and her description are perfect. She doesn't waste time with too much figurative language -- her story is fast-moving, and she writes so that the reader doesn't feel bogged down by extraneous simile and metaphor -- so her writing is wonderfully fluid.
Those who enjoyed "Hunger Games" (almost everyone?) will enjoy this series. It's appropriate for readers from sixth grade through high school. And older students and adults will enjoy this as well.
Charbonneau is also the author of two adult mystery series, The Glee Club mysteries and The Rebecca Robbins Skating mysteries.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for review purposes.
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