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Review: Variant by Robison Wells

Benson Fisher thought a scholarship to Maxfield Academy would be the ticket out of his dead-end life.

He was wrong.

Now he’s trapped in a school that’s surrounded by a razor-wire fence. A school where video cameras monitor his every move. Where there are no adults. Where the kids have split into groups in order to survive.

Where breaking the rules equals death.

But when Benson stumbles upon the school’s real secret, he realizes that playing by the rules could spell a fate worse than death, and that escape—his only real hope for survival—may be impossible.

Please note: This book was selected as part of Michele @ Just a Lil’ Lost and my read-a-long session; as a result, I will do my best not to give away any spoilers in this review. Be advised, however, that spoilers may occur in our wrap-up discussion to follow!

Benson is an average kid. He’s not superpower smart, he doesn’t have any particular skills, and really all that he wants in life is a little stability. Bumped from foster home to foster home, he makes the decision to apply to Maxfield Academy as he feels it will give him somewhere stable to live where he can get an education that will allow him to free himself from the foster system. When he arrives, however, all is not as it appears at MA.

Benson is an average kid. He’s not superpower smart, he doesn’t have any particular skills, and really all that he wants in life is a little stability. Bumped from foster home to foster home, he makes the decision to apply to Maxfield Academy as he feels it will give him somewhere stable to live where he can get an education that will allow him to free himself from the foster system. When he arrives, however, all is not as it appears at MA.

Benson and the reader very quickly discover that there are no adults at this school (not a spoiler – this happens pretty early on), and that the students have organized themselves into three main groups – the Society, the Havoc and the Variants. Each group holds a variety of “contracts” to run the school – maintenance, security, administration, cafeteria work, etc. – and a bizarre societal structure has developed out of this. Benson is, understandable, completely freaked out by this situation, and declares loudly and frequently that he can’t wait to leave. There’s only one problem: no one ever leaves Maxfield Academy, at least not alive.

This book is extremely unsettling in so many ways, and keeps the reader fully engaged in the story. There is no slow introduction here – Wells drops you right off, just as if you are boarding a rollercoaster and immediately hitting the first drop. In fact, the roller coaster analogy is perfect for my reading experience, as there were times when my stomach dropped out from under me, and my jaw hit the floor in surprise. There are all kinds of twists and turns, and just when you think you have things figured out, the story takes a right turn and sends you in a completely direction. There were some pretty shocking revelations in the book, and while this is definitely a fantastical story, Benson’s reactions were authentic enough to keep you on his side. At times he was a little bratty, but considering the situation, it was understandable. It’s the psychological twists that keep you so connected to this story, and I found myself asking myself over and over, “what would I do in that situation?”.

At the end of the book, the game has changed again, and the story has been set up for the sequel, Feedback (now released). I really like how Wells made this change, and how he has opened the door to new possibilities. Benson is a great male lead – tough, self-aware, and a little bit lonely. It’s so good to have a male protagonist who is a ‘normal’ kid in an abnormal situation, and he’s very appealing. There’s also a set up for a bit of a romantic triangle; to be honest, I’m glad that the author has let Benson develop some connections after being afraid to do so for so long, but I’m not sure that the potential love triangle is what is needed in the next book. I anticipated the mental twists more than the romantic ones, and felt my own heart racing during each paintball match in the book.

Overall, this is an edge-of-your-seat read that will keep you flipping pages late into the night. Many have compared Variant to being part Lord of the Flies, part Ender’s Game and part Maze Runner, yet it’s also completely different. This is a great read for that teen on your holiday list who wants something a little different under that bow.

Variant by Robison Wells, published by HarperTeen. Purchased myself from Curiosity House Books, but also available at Indigo, Amazon and other independent booksellers. ISBN: 9780062026088, 373 pages.

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Categorised in: Readalong, Reading Challenge, Reviews

3 Responses »

  1. I loved this book! I completely agree with it being unsettling, and the twist/cliffhanger at the end was intense. I did not see it coming. I can’t wait to finally have time to read the sequel!

    Like

  2. I love this book. So I read this book in my reading180 class, and they didnt have the second book!!!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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