Monday, December 12, 2011
Book Review: Variant by Robison Wells (Whitney Finalist)
Author: Robison Wells
Enjoyment Rating: 7/10
Referral: I'd heard about it several times but decided to buy it after Emily Milner talked about it at Segullah
Source: Kindle for iPad
Books I've read this year: 155
When Variant starts, seventeen-year-old Benson Fisher arrives at a boarding school in New Mexico, feeling like it will be the first place he will ever be able to call home. He's a foster kid who has lived in too many places to count, and when he gets the opportunity to apply for a scholarship at Maxfield Academy, he jumps at the chance to have a place to belong.
However, it becomes evident even before Benson crosses the threshold of the school that something is seriously messed up at Maxfield. There are no teachers, no adults of any kind. In order to keep a Lord of the Flies-style anarchy from erupting, the students have broken up into three groups, and Benson has to choose which one to join on the first day (he joins the Vs, or the Variants). While the school has only four rules, no one seems able to tell him what it means to be sent to "detention" (the punishment for breaking the rules). Benson decides it's high time to leave, but he soon realizes that escape will be more difficult than he imagined.
I hesitate to call Variant a dystopian novel, because it's not immediately apparent that anything dystopian is going on. Benson's world appears to be like our world. And even when he gets to the school, it seems pretty draconian, but not necessarily out of the realm of possibility. It's not until three quarters of the way through the book that the dystopian elements emerge, so I can't decide if it's a card well played or if Wells is messing with our expectations as readers. While the story really picks up at the end, the middle third is slow-- we see a lot of paintball, and not much else. I also think that the budding love stories should be built up more to justify Benson's reactions to them.
I'll say this for Variant-- it didn't feel like a trilogy, or even like a "stand alone book with series potential" even after I finished it. I was a little bit confused by the ending, and by the potential love triangle it opened up, but it never felt like it was working its way toward more books. So I'm intrigued that Wells (like his brother Dan, whose first Monster book didn't feel like part of a trilogy) has two more books in the works.