The second novel, Independent Study concluded with a startling discovery by Raffe and Cia. Raffe Jeffries, whose father, Rychard, is head of the Department of Education gives Cia Vale a tape recording that proves what really happened during the first set of tests. Cia and Raffe tell Michal Gallen that they will take the tape to the rebel camp rather than give it to Michal to do so. They agree to meet Michal at the edge of Symon Dean's rebel camp where Cia hears how she killed Will during the Testing. Michal believes that he has to get these recordings to Symon who will give them to President Collindar so she can play them on the Debate Chamber, revealing what is really going on during the Testing. This should pressure officials into voting against Dr. Barnes.
Michal takes the recordings and meets Symon with Cia and Raffe looking on, hidden. Cia recognizes Symon as the man who gave her food and a drug to help her resist the questioning about her family during the interview. Symon shoots Michal, killing him instantly and then destroys the recordings.
Cia now realizes that The Testing's purpose is to select the best and brightest young minds and make sure they conform to the government's opinions and to be under government control. Those who believe differently have been tricked into believing they are part of a rebellion. Symon is not working to help the rebels, he is working with Dr. Barnes to ensure The Testing continues by deceiving them. Symon and Barnes have created the rebellion as a means to control those who are trying to end The Testing. He has counseled patience to the rebels who now want to attack , an attack Symon and Dr. Barnes know about and is certain to result in death for the rebels including Cia's brother Zeen. Cia realizes that she must now take control of the rebellion, one free of Dr. Barnes's control.
Graduation Day now picks up where Independent Study left off. Cia is contacted by her brother Zeen who is in the rebellion. She explains what has happened and that Symon Dean is a traitor who has engineered the rebellion to bring down those against The Testing. Once the rebels attack, there will be Security Teams waiting for them. They will be killed. Although Cia tries to warn her brother to leave the rebels, he decides to stay in order to retrieve information that might be useful to Cia. Meanwhile, Cia realizes her only hope is to approach the President and tell her what she has learned.
President Collindar tells Cia that she cannot cancel the Debate Chamber vote without raising Dr. Barnes and Symon's suspicions.Instead she decides to postpone the debate a week when Michal's disappearance will become public. Collindar tells Cia that they must carry out the rebel's plan to end The Testing by eliminating specific people who have authority and control over The Testing. The President gives Cia a list of eleven names, supplied by Symon and tells her that if she wants to eliminate The Testing she must kill these people. The list includes Dr. Jedidiah Barnes, Professor Verna Holt, Professor Douglas Lee, Professor Chen, Rychard Jeffries - Raffe's father, and Symon Dean.
Cia is devastated and has no idea how she is going to do this or if she even should. Collindar gives her a week to decide. Cia returns to the University campus to find that Professor Holt is interviewing everyone to try to discover the whereabouts of Damone Pyburn, whom Cia killed in self-defense. Cia manages to contact Zeen who tells her that she needs to leave the University as the rebels on campus are planning to attack Dr. Barnes and that Symon and Renatta have instructed the rebels to remove anyone who might interfere with their plans.
Cia begins to formulate a plan; she draws up a list of people who will help her to carry out the President's plan. This list includes her boyfriend, Tomas, Raffe, Stacia- a friend in the Medical field of study, Ian, Enzo and Brick. Cia tells Tomas what President Collindar has asked her to do and he is shocked. They decide taht she needs to test Ian, Enzo and Raffe to determine if they are trustworthy. All pass the test except Enzo who is seriously injured.
Tomas, Raffe and Stacia are the only student Cia knows for certain she can trust. They are determined to end The Testing and to find out what has happened to the students who failed and were Redirected. After looking more carefully over the list Cia decides that there are only five people who definitely need to be killed; Dr. Barnes, Rychard Jeffries, Professor Chen and Professor Holt as well as Symon Dean. One team will go after Barnes and Jeffries while the other one will target Holt and Chen. Zeen has indicated that he will kill Symon Dean.
Having escaped the University grounds, the four begin their plan to kill these people. Can Cia achieve her mission and end The Testing for good?
Charbonneau's conclusion to The Testing series was well written, leading to an exciting conclusion that answers many of the questions posed in the first two books about The Testing. Readers might pick up on what is really behind President Collindar's request and have it confirmed in the final confrontation between Malencia and Dr. Barnes. We also get more of the backstory of how the continental United States was so devastated by a world war, followed by environmental damage and genetic damage to the human population and how the survivors have worked to recover their world and what was left of their society.
Through her narration of the story, Cia proves to be a young woman who attempts to maintain her integrity and hold on to the values of respecting life that her parents instilled in her in the Five Lakes Colony. When confronted by President Collindar, she tells the president that killing these people is murder. Eventually she comes to the undesirable conclusion that the means (murder) will justify the end (stopping The Testing). Rather than just blindly following Collindar's request to kill everyone on the list, she tries to find out about each person and whether or not they are truly responsible for The Testing.
Graduation Day is well paced for the most part, driven mainly by action. There is very little development of the numerous characters and their relationships to one another. For once I felt the romantic relationship between the two lead characters, Cia and Tomas, was well written - low key as it would be for two people struggling to survive under such challenging conditions.
Fans of the Hunger Games will enjoy this very similar series. Check out Joelle Charbonneau's fantastic website were you can read a copy of the prequel to The Testing. There are also plenty of other activities, quizzes and videos to explore.
Graduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2014