I've been a reviewer since February 2001, when I began writing for my local newspaper. In 2010 the paper did away with their arts section and I went completely online. I review science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy and dystopian in young adult and mainstream adult. I'm also interested in travel writing, history, and general non-fiction, but my main focus is sci-fi/fantasy.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“She wants to put an end to the Testing
In a scarred and brutal future, The United Commonwealth teeters on the brink of all-out civil war. The rebel resistance plots against a government that rules with cruelty and cunning. Gifted student and Testing survivor, Cia Vale, vows to fight.
But she can't do it alone.
This is the chance to lead that Cia has trained for – but who will follow? Plunging through layers of danger and deception, Cia must risk the lives of those she loves—and gamble on the loyalty of her lethal classmates.
Who can Cia trust?
The stakes are higher than ever—lives of promise cut short or fulfilled; a future ruled by fear or hope—in the electrifying conclusion to Joelle Charbonneau's epic Testing trilogy. Ready or not…it’s Graduation Day.”
Where I thought the second book in this trilogy was very firmly a “middle book”—setting up action but not containing a lot of forward plot movement—this final installment doesn’t slow down from the get-go. This time there are no sections that mimic the Testing games of the first book, which keeps the narrative from getting bogged down. It’s pretty much wall-to-wall action, with the United Commonwealth’s best and brightest being pitted against each other in a real-life bid for power.
The author keeps readers in suspense about the loyalties of many of Cia’s friends throughout most of the book. The tension is very high, making you hold your breath every time Cia chooses to trust someone, because past betrayals have shown her (and us) that trust is a dangerous thing in this world. And Charbonneau doesn’t make the ultimately trustworthy ones out to be saints or some kind of hero. They’re just people doing what they believe to be right, even in the face of possible death. They make mistakes and miscalculations, and one character in particular is still proving himself due to events in the first book.
What I really appreciated about this novel is the twists and turns in the plot. In fact, by the time the story is done, you’re going to be questioning whether or not Cia was in the know or not… and you’ll even wonder whose side she was really fighting for. It casts the tale in shades of gray that you weren’t expecting, and I thought it was a bold choice to leave things ambiguous in the end. I liked it, though. It felt more realistic to still have a few questions when all was said and done.
One thing I would have liked to have seen was a broader picture of the country in this version of America. We see a bit during the times when Cia is studying maps and diagrams for the President, but the story is pretty well confined to Tosu City. This isn’t a flaw in the novel, because the way this particular story was being told, a broader view might have detracted from the plot. I do hope the author returns to write more in this world, though.
In my opinion, this trilogy is just as strong as The Hunger Games, and it has some plot elements and characters that rival Katniss and the Mockingjay rebellion. Graduation Day is a powerful conclusion to one of the most enjoyable teen dystopian trilogies that I’ve read.
This review originally appeared on Owlcat Mountain on June 13, 2014.