Aug 9, 2011

Variant by Robison Wells review

Benson Fisher couldn't be more excited to have gotten the scholarship to Maxfield Academy. After bouncing from foster home to foster home he's finally getting the chance to really settle in somewhere & maybe have a normal teenage experience. Unfortunately that all goes down the drain as soon as he steps in the front doors. There are no teachers, there are no staff, there is razor wire & a tall fence surrounding the property and no one ever leaves. There are microchips in all the doors tied to each student's id & no one ever comes back from detention. Given all these circumstances, Benson finds himself very confused as to why all these teenagers are willing to stay. And then he starts to put things together.

No one here has family or friends. Nobody cares about these teens. And there is something supremely suspicious going on in regards to how things are run. There are 3 "gangs" at the school who bid on contracts for everything from grounds-keeping to security. So really, is it the other teens keeping everyone at the school... or is there someone higher up calling the shots? As Benson delves deeper into the troubling mystery surrounding this school, he's putting everyone in danger. The question is, who are they really in danger from & what is the worst that can happen?

Robison Wells has got a pretty good formula going in this book. Who could resist the rough & tough, down on his luck kid that refuses to take "no" for an answer? Benson has a bristly personality at best, but he is determined to convince everyone that things aren't as great as they seem & that everyone is being duped. Even more startling is just how well everyone seems to be taking their imprisonment. Granted they've all been there longer than Benson, but they've become complacent & complicit in their own restriction.

The dynamics between the 3 rival gangs really sets the tone for all character interaction. In a way, their divisions remind me of the gangs in S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders. Society is very much like the Socs wherein they claim to uphold the law & be of better moral character and yet they dole out punishments that never seem to suit the crime. They take orders without question & believe in their mission.

Havoc resembles the Greasers because these characters do the dirty work that makes the school continue to function, but they enjoy causing mayhem. They toe the line in regards to rules, breaking minor ones that won't cause too much trouble, but never crossing over into major infractions.

What The Outsiders didn't officially have is a third group of misfits, in the case of Variant we have the Variants (Vs for short). This other group is just that, it is the remainder of people who don't really fit in well enough in either of the other groups to have joined them. Benson winds up in this group because he doesn't buy into either of the other groups' missions. The Vs are consistent & kind of free-thinking, while the others are pretty rigid in their tenets.

The dialogue left something to be desired, but what can you expect from miscreants in an unsupervised boarding school? I think the language was intentional, so I can't fault it. The best part though is the twist. And let me tell you, this one will make you do a double-take. Truly masterful, Variant is not one you'll want to miss!

ARC graciously provided by Around the World Tours

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