384 pp. HarperTeen. 2011 ISBN: 978-0-06-202608-8
Release Date: October 18, 2011
Source: ARC received from the publisher
Summary (From Goodreads):
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.
Variant left me feeling conflicted. I was intrigued and hooked by Benson’s story and situation right away. Maxfield Academy is surround by an air of mystery, especially when Benson first arrives at the school and sees kids cramming at the windows looking to see the new kid while two other students race out of the building to chase after a car. Very odd. Another interesting plot point is when Benson is getting the tour of the place from a girl who doesn’t seem to care that the school is more like a prison. Then he meets the “gangs.” All of this happens at the beginning of the novel, so my attention was held. It’s once Benson becomes more involved at Maxfield Academy that I grew distant and bored.
What I disliked the most about Variant is that the pace began to drag. So much time is devoted to Benson repeating how brainwashed everyone is and how horrible the school is. I understand that he’s concerned and frustrated, which completely makes sense, but after a while it became annoying. Benson obsessed over how to escape and why others seem content to stay locked up in the school. Do I understand how he feels? Yes. Does that move the plot? No. I also didn’t feel a connection with Benson or really any of the characters. Everything about the characters felt very surface level.
Something else that slowed the plot down for me was how much time Wells spent describing paint ball battles. The first paint ball match, set up against two gangs, took up an entire chapter. On the positive side, my male readers who enjoy plots with lots of action will probably love this book and those scenes. For me, it felt like a way to drag the story on and make the book even longer. Now that I’ve finished the novel, I understand why those scenes are important, but I still think they’re much too long.
It’s obvious that Variant isn’t my favorite book, but I do know some students at school who will enjoy Wells’ book. If you enjoy books that are heavy with action, then you should give this novel a try. I wouldn’t categorize this novel as dystopian, but I imagine dystopian fans will enjoy Variant. The beginning and the end of the novel are definitely attention grabbing, but overall I’m just not a fan.