Thursday, November 17, 2011

Variant by Robison Wells

Author - Robison Wells
Publisher - HarperTeen, October 2011

Variant is a part of the many many many YA dystopian books that have been coming out lately. But don't cast this one aside simply because it's part of the ever-rising number of YA dystopian books coming out. This book is a very strong entry, especially for a debut author, and there' s plenty to love.


    Benson Fisher thought that 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.

    This book first caught my eye when I listened to Rob Wells' podcast The Appendix. I think it was right around the same time that I found myself listening to him on several panels at Life the Universe and Everything (a writer's convention in Utah). Anyway, tangent over.

    The book centers around Benson Fisher being trapped in a school where there are very few rules, plenty of punishments, and the students must band together to survive. And, of course, there's no way out. It immediately reminded me of the famous Stanford Experiment where several students were made into guards and other students into prisoners, and then all hell broke loose. The book puts you in the trenches with Benson, as he joins a group of the students, but refuses to drink the Kook-Aid and accept that he's trapped here forever.

    As far as the writing itself goes, Wells' prose is plain but effective, and the story moves at a very fast pace. I read this book in one day, basically in one evening sitting (I have a two year old, so NOTHING is ever in one sitting). It was very easy for me to get into the story and I couldn't put the book down,  something that has been happening for me less and less over the years. Fans of some of the other BIG dystopian novels in the YA genre (Hunger Games, Incarceron, Uglies, etc.) will be right at home with this book, but I think it's got more potential than almost all of the others. So does Publisher's Weekly, which voted it one of the top books of 2011.

    I think the thing that I enjoyed about the book was how quickly it went from typical dystopian YA book to a break-neck thriller. The novel also has some great twists, which completely change the entire book for the main character as well as the reader. The only thing I can say that I didn't enjoy was the cliffhanger ending. Be prepared for the mother of all cliffhangers on this one. I honestly didn't realize that this was a series until I was probably 90% of the way through the book and realized there was no way he could wrap up what was going on in a single book.

    I loved:

  • The pace. Things just move faster and faster
  • The characters. Well done, and their motivations seemed real
  • The twists. This book really sends you for a loop.
  • The love story. I always enjoy books where the love story takes on a different feeling due to the environment. Not quite a classic romance here.
    I hated:

  • The cliffhanger ending. The book was over so abruptly that it felt like the author just said, "Oh, this seems like a decent place to stop for now."
Variant gets 8/10. A very solid debut from an author that I hope to be hearing from again soon. The cliffhanger ending was bad for me, but others might not mind it. Especially once the series is complete and people can go straight through.

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