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.
©2011 Robison Wells (P)2011 HarperCollinsPublishers
Benson Fisher has been in the foster system most of his life. He jumped at the opportunity to get a scholarship to the special Maxfield Academy. A strange woman delivers him to the school where he is surprised to discover only teens – no adults. He quickly learns that he, and the other kids, are trapped but Becky, the girl who is trying to provide orientation, doesn’t seem to care that the school is a prison. They cannot go beyond the high brick walls which lie within the razor-wire fence. There are cameras monitoring their behavior and there is no contact with the world outside.
Although they receive computer announcements and instructions from “the academy” all other tasks are performed by the students. The teens are divided into groups who have contracted jobs to run the school. Initially each of the groups, Society, Havoc and Variant, try to recruit Benson. He chooses Variant hoping to find an ally who might help him escape. Unfortunately, all the kids are convinced there is no escape and if you break the rules you are punished. If you break the primary rules, like trying to escape, you may be sent to detention. And the kids who go to detention don’t return; they disappear.
Benson’s first attempt at escape doesn’t work so he consigns himself to gather information for a better plan. He struggles with the rules and tries to learn how to help his team win at paint ball even when it means he takes a beating. He is befriended by one of the young girls, Jane, who has been there the longest. As they grow closer, she tries to cheer him and get him to drop his dreams of escape. When Jane and Benson are attacked, he learns a horrifying secret. Who can he trust and how can he convince the others of the secret he has uncovered? How can they escape before something more terrible happens?
There is mystery early in the book, but I found the beginning slow to engage me. I became more interested as the action (paint ball battles) picked up. The story slogs through some repetition and teenage angst, but I did get to a point where I wanted to find out what happened. There is a scary twist and confrontation as the end nears and then another twist at the cliffhanger ending.
Benson is a bit self-centered and impulsive... like many teens. Even though I am not enthralled by the characters, there are many questions left open at the end of book one. Although the second book seems to have more mixed reviews and I didn't feel this quite rated a 4.0 rating, I am leaning towards getting Feedback (book 2) because I am curious to know where the author takes the story..
Audio Notes: Michael Goldstrom does a good job narrating the teen characters. He manages to convey the tones of cheerfulness, fear, bravado, anger, snideness, meanness and other aspects fitting the teens. I think the audio version helped me move along in the story which might have been more difficult in print/ebook.
Really enjoyed this one. The storyline may not have been completely unique (it reminded me of stories like Maze Runner and Pines), but it was well executed. Some reviews stated the big "reveal' was too unbelievable, but it IS a story about a boarding school with no adults that essentially holds students prisoner, so I pretty much went into it knowing I'd have to suspend belief. The narration was great, and the main character is very likeable. I'm eager to listen to book 2.
Variant is an easy, undemanding read featuring a slow burn mystery and a plot that, if not unique, flows. It is the first in a series and, although abruptly ends with a 'big reveal', has enough surprises to keep the reader following the story. A lack of sappy romance lifts the book but savvy readers will soon realize this twist has been done many times.
Plot: Benson has been shuffled between foster care parents, mostly cold and abusive individuals who just want an extra unpaid hand around the house/work. So when he finds and wins a scholarship at a prestigious boarding school, he jumps at the opportunity. But once he's inside, he finds a micro society run by the students and monitored from afar by the adults. There's no escape from school and he must find his way among gangs, violence, and rules that, if broken, mean you disappear forever.
Benson is a relatable character and the author does a good job of bringing many interesting personalities into the mix. I felt the plot had been thought through and definitely enjoyed the mystery and the tension as Benson has to quickly adapt to the prison in which he is thrown.
As with all of these type of teen books, I really have to suspend disbelief that the people running the prison are stupid enough to let events happen as they do. As well, the final mystery reveal was extremely disappointing - we've seen this plot before (specifically, a 1970s movie with the exact same twist, but with a community of adults). In fact, the ending was so unoriginal that it took all interest away from me wanting to continue the series further.
Note: I listened to the Audible version and the narrator did a decent job.
This was an ok read - an interesting premise and well narrated but I wasn't gripped and in the end, finding out it was only part one of a series was frustrating.
This was a younger read that it might suggest so would probably appeal to the young adult audience.
Worthless, childless Sci-Fi drivel with no redeeming qualities. I never choose books such as this when described correctly.
This book kept me hooked just by the fact I wanted to know "what is going on here". Benson is an orphaned teenager who has been tossed from foster home to foster home and just wants a better life. He applies to a boarding school in hopes for that better life. When he arrives he finds out this is no ordinary school and he is trapped. I was constantly guessing to try and figure out what or who was imprisioning the students all the way to the last sentence of the book. I wanted to jump in and help Benson escape. His determination kept me rooting for him. Narration was done and paced well. I think this is a book my boys would like because the romance factor is very limited and it is fast paced. Must read the next book. I have to find out what happens.
PJV Quickie: Sticky on the believability factor but high on the entertainment scale, VARIANT by Robison Wells had me engrossed from the beginning. But, I’ll admit I was cross comparing it to a few other Young Adult Dystopian novels as I read.
Benson Fisher, the main character of Variant is your typical lost boy. He is a product of foster care, doesn’t fit in at any school he goes to and is resigned to the fact that his life is messed up before it has even begun. Until he gets a scholarship to Maxfield Academy. Which, is surprising since his grades aren’t that good and he lied on the application. But, who cares about that. He’s about to go to a great school.
He is all excited, until he is dropped off at the front gates and his ride high-tails it out of there without a backwards glance. Maxfield Academy isn’t a school, it is a prison, with no guards but the children within the walls. There is no way out and the people within can’t be trusted. There are rules on top of rules to be followed and if you break those rules…you are never seen again.
Sounds exciting right? It is. The book keeps going and going, it sucks you in from the beginning and has excellent pacing in the beginning. I enjoyed Benson and the way Robison Wells developed his character, in the beginning. He was likable, even in a very tumultuous plot. The story was filled with suspense and hidden compartments which kept the book interesting. But, what I keep mentioning is…in the beginning. Then it gets to a point where Benson just turns into a very dumb character, his actions are dumb, selfish and illogical. Because of his actions the plot progresses, but it is obvious that his actions were written to carry the plot instead of a logical character reaction.
Then you are hit with the big surprise of the plot, which I won’t reveal because of spoilers, but with the reveal, the main character again reacts differently then I would have expected. Everything does seem to converge in the end — but then that is it, the end. Most of the plot is still unresolved with the ending of this book, so while exciting, it left me with a feeling that I put a book down in the middle and then lost the book…or forgot about it. Which isn’t that favorable a feeling for me.
I would recommend this more for younger boys, instead of the usual Young Adult fans. In fact I would probably put this in categories of Middle Grade instead of YA, just because of the similarities in crafting. The male lead and the sketchy plot will probably leave the usual young adult dystopian fans lacking. They might also find the strong resemblance to THE MAZE RUNNER also a bit on the distasteful side. Fans of Middle Grade, male leads, ages 11 – 15 should enjoy.
Similar Young Adult Dystopian Novels & 3 Star Ratings:
The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1) by James Dashner
The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1) by Patrick Ness
The plot and storyline will keep the reader engaged. It wasn't very gripping, but I did find myself sitting in the car after reaching my destination to figure out what would happen next. The speed at which the story moved and the "shock" towards the end did cause me to purchase the next novel, "Feedback", ahead of my credit, but "Variant" is far superior to its sequel. If you're on the fence about purchasing it, jump over. I don't have any regrets for my purchase and enjoyed the story for what it was. For the genre, it wasn't near as good as say, Neal Shusterman's, "Unwind", but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
I enjoyed this audiobook a lot. I liked Benson and loved some of the supporting characters such as Becky and Jane. It's a very action packed story with lots of cool twists. Although, I do have to admit that at times it felt a lot like The Maze Runner. And there's the obvious comparisons to Lord of the Flies. Wells does a good job of telling a story and what was with that ending! This is the first time I remember coming across this narrator and I really liked him. Overall, it wasn't a fantastic, wonderful and amazing book but it is well worth the read. I will definitely be reading the second book in the series.
On a side note, I listen to the author and his brother, Dan Wells' podcast, Do I Dare to Eat a Peach? It's a great podcast and so much fun. I love listening to the make their lists and talk. It's one of my favorite podcasts. I highly recommend it. You can find it on iTunes.
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