Series: Variant #1
Published by Harper Collins on 2011-10-04
Genres: Action & Adventure, Science Fiction, Young Adult
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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.
If you’ve read any of my reviews or followed this blog for a little bit, you probably already know that I’m a big fan of the science-fiction genre, especially when there is a bit of dystopia mixed in with it. I’m also intrigued by male POV’s and am always on the lookout for new books. With all of that said, it’s surprising to me that I didn’t pick this one up sooner. I first noticed it when I was checking out it’s sequel, Feedback. I hadn’t heard of either at that point, but they sounded interesting. Then Variant showed up one Sunday on Arcycling and I knew I couldn’t pass it up. I’m so glad I got the chance to read this book. And now I’m going to tell you all the reasons why I think you should read it too!
Variant introduces us to Benson, a teenage orphan who has lived in the foster care system since he was a young child. He’s been bounced around to about 30 different families in his short life and is ready for something more permanent. When he happens upon information about Maxfield Academy, a boarding school that specializes in helping kids from less fortunate backgrounds, he doesn’t hesitate to apply. He’s excited to be accepted with a full scholarship and packs up his belongings and is gone from his old life. But as soon as he arrives at Maxfield, something feels off. He’s dropped off my a woman, who doesn’t even go inside, and immediately gets spooked by a couple of students who say there’s no way out of the school. The school is surrounded by fences with barbed wire, full of video cameras, and there are no adults anywhere inside. He soon learns the rules of the school as well as the best way for him to survive it. Maxfield is closely monitored, rules are very strictly enforced, and all students must play their part. When Benson learns the truth about Maxfield, he must decide who he can trust and figure out how to get out.
My Likes: This book was so gripping! Such a great example of suspense and the true feeling of terror when you have no one but yourself. The students had already split themselves into gangs before Benson arrived and he didn’t exactly fit in well right off the bat. By the time he learns the secret of Maxfield, he’s made quite a few enemies and very few friends. And the secret leaves even more questions about who he can trust. Since Benson grew up without family and bounced around different homes, he’s used to being on his own. But trapped inside the school makes him wish he had someone he could turn to. And Robison Wells does a fantastic job of creating a feeling of true isolation in Benson and the terror of being alone and misunderstood and not trusted. It was perfect for the dystopian society he created for his story!
I also really enjoyed Benson as a character and a narrator. Male POVs can be pretty hit or miss for me. I think it’s hard when a woman tries to write a male narrative and I think sometimes the male main characters can be a bit unemotional and hard to connect with. But Wells allowed Benson to feel and communicate and show real emotions without creating a weak, whiny, emotional wreck or a completely logical, robotic, problem solver main character. I think we got the perfect balance in Benson and I really felt for him and wanted him to be the hero I felt he deserved to be. Of course, I can’t give anything away. So I won’t tell you if he is or not. But I will say that if you’re looking for books with a male POV, give Variant a try.
My Dislikes: There really wasn’t anything I disliked about the book. But I will say that I was a tiny bit disappointed in a part that I think was supposed to have been a big reveal and somewhat shocking just wasn’t. It was a bit too predictable. It was after finding out the real secret behind Maxfield, just an extra part to the story. So the main reveal is still very surprising, don’t worry about that. But this other part, I just kind of expected it. And I wish that the characters had expected it too. It just felt a little off that none of the rest of the characters suspected the second part at all when it seemed obvious to me. So, like I said, nothing reallly that I disliked. Just a little disappointed that the characters didn’t anticipate this one part like I had.
Final Thoughts: This book was so good! It was a very fast, very gripping read. If you are a fan, at all, of science-fiction/dystopians, you should read this one. The main character, along with the set-up, created such a feeling of isolation and anxiety, I couldn’t put the book down. I had to know what was going to happen to Benson and see if he would ever escape Maxfield. I wanted to know if the other students were kids he could trust. They were all initially presented with such specific characteristics and belonged to certain gangs, who would he end up trusting? And what was the secret? Why was he trapped in a school with no teachers or adults of any kind that would kill you for breaking the rules? It really was an awesome read. Just the right amount of action, character development, intrigue, suspense, and even a tiny tiny bit of romance. It was a sort of mash-up of Lord of the Flies, The Maze Runner, and Divergent all in one. I thoroughly enjoyed it and gave Variant 5 stars.