Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review for Variant by Robison Wells

Variant by Robison Wells.  HarperTeen, 2011.

Benson Fisher, who has gone from one foster home to another, applies for a scholarship to Maxfield Academy, which is an exclusive prep school located in New Mexico. Much to his surprise, he is quickly accepted to the school. When he arrives at the Maxfield, he discovers that the school has four rules: sexual acts are forbidden; fighting is forbidden; escape attempts are forbidden; and students must accept all punishments given to them. However, obeying last three of these rules is very difficult, and students are given detention for breaking any of them.

The school is divided into three gangs which control Maxfield, and there are no adults supervising. Instead, the school is run these groups—The Society, a gang which always follows the school rules; Havoc, a violent gang, and Variant, whose members have no ties to either gang.

As soon as Benson walks into the school, he is hustled into a room by members of The Society, who tell him that he should join their group. While this is going on, members of Havoc, also vying for his favor, are trying to bust the door down. Benson refuses both groups and is taken in by Variant.

Things are very strange at Maxfield Academy, and it is run more like a prison than a school. Members of The Society are the instructors, but they don’t teach traditional subjects. Jobs, like grounds-keeping, security, and janitorial services, are divided up among the gangs through cooperative bidding wars. It is this jobs agreement that actually keep the different groups at peace with one another. Money made through jobs is used to buy items like additional food or guns and clothing used to participate in paintball wars. Detention might consist of being denied food for a day, but sometimes punished students disappear and never return.

More than anything, Benson wants his freedom back, even if it means going back into foster care. He resolves that he will bide his time, plan, and eventually escape. He never dreams that most of the friends and enemies he has made will eventually turn out to be something much more shocking and sinister!

I loved this book! Kudos to Robinson Wells, who has done a fabulous job of making a school which is run by teenagers seem real! ! It gives me the impression that he really understands teens, especially boys! His descriptions of classes, uniforms, paintball wars, and the school grounds are extremely vivid. The whole book reminded me of A Separate Peace meets The Stepford Wives!

Benson Fisher is a really strong character. Beginning with the first chapter, the reader realizes that, despite falling through the cracks of the foster-care system, he is extremely self-assured and smart. The very idea that the school is not offering any real subjects is astounding to him! He is no “goody-two-shoes”, either, but he is continually stunned at the things that are going on at Maxfield. Isaiah, the leader of The Society, has a smooth, persuasive personality. Contrasting with that is Oakland, Havoc’s leader, who has street-smarts and a “bad” attitude. Mason, Benson’s roommate, was a very likable guy, but did a complete turnaround at the end of the book. I won’t give you any more information than that because I don’t want to spoil the book for you.

Benson stayed confused for the whole book, just like I did. Right when I thought I understood everything that was going on, a surprise would get thrown in to the plot and everything I believed would change. The book has many twists and turns, and a real shocker of an ending! The book is a real page-turner, and readers will not be disappointed!

Since there was a cliff-hanger ending, I suspect that this is a series in progress. I recommend it for middle school, high school, and public libraries.

**Reviewer’s note: The copy reviewed was an ARC received from NetGalley and read on nook.