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Variant (Variant #1) by Robison Wells (2011)
Variant (2011)
by Robison Wells
Hardcover Edition
Publication Date: October 4, 2011
Publisher: HarperTeen
buy a copy via Amazon.
synopsis via 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.

My Thoughts:
Easily the most gripping YA novel that I’ve read so far this year; I happily ate it up in one sitting. Rob Wells always seems to be a step ahead and prepared to ambush his readers with a plot twist. You will not see what’s coming, I promise you. Maxfield Academy may be dark and frightening with its secrets–but it’s a place where you’ll want to keep exploring, even if Benson wants to escape. I was breathlessly surprised with Variant, a book I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to any dystopian fan. A stunning debut.


Variant is a blend of Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games, Divergent (the factions), Shadow Children (outcasts, the school, and merit system), and a bit of The Giver (the ending.) Out of the host of YA dystopian novels lately, Variant sticks closely to the utopian/dystopian definition. Variant’s Maxfield Academy has no adults, instead they have security cameras and computer screens; students are given points by fulfilling job contracts to buy items; it’s where factions are formed to preserve peace. The food is good, there are paintball games, school dances, and philosophy lessons. Life in Maxfield is better than being an unwanted, friendless loser outside of the Academy…or that’s what they want you to think. There are times when I wonder if Maxfield wasn’t so dangerous, would Benson still want to leave? What’s the cost of his freedom?
I also have my hesitations toward the gang faction system. I see them as a necessity and a great strategy to keep peace will maximizing wellbeing. But I am still foggy on how it works and if you can identify yourself with more than one gang, or be a spy. On another note, The Society gang’s actions reminds me of the Stanford Prison Experiment.

The characters is what stopped me from being fully engaged to the book. Aside from Benson, the rest of the characters are just a blur.

Benson Fisher: The protagonist, a loser with no friends (though I wonder if he lied about his grades on his application, why not lie about his friends as well). The novel is also told in his perspective. Escaping is literally the only thing on his mind. He is rash and doesn’t seem to be capable of forming coherent plans before wrecking havoc. He is constantly thinking of escape, but he always seems to be lacking the common sense to carry it out. You don’t just run blindly into nowhere, you have to plan, get supplies, plan a revolution, secure weapons…or something other than climb a tree and hope you make it by blind luck. For a guy that supposedly read a lot of books, he doesn’t seem smart at all.
His logic during the paintball matches, and during the denouement had me completely lost. For a story in his perspective, he seems to be keeping quite a few secrets from the reader as well. I had no idea why he was doing whatever crazy thing he was doing half the time.
I also expected him to be more conflicted when debating his stay at Maxfield.
He is also a pitiful character who thought he was changing his life with his scholarship, but ended up in a prison of a school. He tries to be the hero, but lacks the charisma and the brains. You have to applaud him for trying though.

This is so not a romance novel; if you are looking for a romance, this won’t be your book. There are a few couples, and a bit of dating, but no swoon-worthy romance going on. And Benson was only there for like a month, and he was too busy planning his escape to really care about girls.

Variant is pacing done right, it’s action=packed down the the last page that leaves you craving for more. A compelling plot and just enough back-story to answer questions. I was worried in the beginning when Benson was so adamant on leaving and I was afraid he would be successful before I got to explore Maxfield Academy’s fascinating “society.” This is suspense done right.

Rating: B+
Feedback, Variant’s sequel will be coming out this October, and I am EXCITED. If you didn’t already know, Robison Wells is Dan Wells’s brother; although Dan Wells is the more experienced writer, and as much as I liked Partials, Rob Wells’s Variant does YA dystopian a bit better.