Home > Book, Book Review, Reviews, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Young Adult > Book Review – Variant by Robison Wells

Book Review – Variant by Robison Wells

January 26, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Book Description:

After years in foster homes, seventeen-year-old Benson Fisher applies to New Mexico’s Maxfield Academy in hopes of securing a brighter future, but instead he finds that the school is a prison and no one is what he or she seems.


“Welcome to Maxfield, here’s your tracking device. We watch everything that you do. You can never leave.”

My friend recommended Variant by Robison Wells as a book similar to Michael Grant’s YA dystopian novel Gone mashed with James Dashner’s  The Maze Runner.  I did enjoy Gone (minus all the supernatural extra stuff) so I checked this one out, and I have to say that Variant  is one of the better-written YA books I’ve read lately, especially one where the narrator is a teenage boy. I can see someone like my nephew really enjoying this book. Not only was there the mystery of the sinister school/prison’s existence to solve, but the book is really action-packed too (plus Robison Wells knows how to keep the suspense going and going until the cliff-hanger non-ending!)

Personally, boarding schools have had a bad rep for me ever since I read Thomas Hughes’s classic Tom Brown’s School Days, but Variant takes it a LOT further. Benson Fisher’s new school Maxfield Academy – far from being a posh boarding school – is literally a prison. A high wall plus a razor-wire fence surrounds the grounds, and while there are no teachers around (or any adults for that matter), video cameras/microphones check the students’ every move. The punishment for breaking the school’s major rules (Rule One is “Don’t try to escape”) is “detention” (understood to mean death). For self-preservation, Maxfield students have banded together into three different groups (the Society, Havoc and Variant gangs) which police each other. Intrigued yet?

Debut author Robison Wells manages to put a fresh twist to the familiar Lord of the Flies theme in his début novel. In particular, I was really impressed with how real the kids in Variant are – from the way they talked or interacted with each other as  the invisible school administrators subjected them to different physical/psychological stresses (kind of like rats in a maze). I could understand where everyone was coming from and their motivations, and like I’ve mentioned, the young male protagonist POV really worked well for once. Benson Fisher comes across as a fairly likable, resourceful and decent kid who tries to tough it out while adjusting to his bizarre situation. Another thing I liked was how the author was able to paint a picture of what Maxfield Academy looked like – from the marble halls, the closets cum secret elevators, the special doors that are only opened by tracking devices that the kids had to wear, even the outside grounds where paintball wars are regularly conducted. Despite the creepiness of the school, I couldn’t help but think that it would be a cool place to visit 😉

The only thing that rang awkward to me was the twist that appears midway to the book – when Benson stumbles onto the school’s real secret. That signals a change from a purely Lord of the Flies dystopian approach to something that’s more Sci Fi. That development required suspension of disbelief (I don’t want to spoil anything, but the discovery requires a certain technological advancement that doesn’t exist yet). I also felt frustrated, since Benson’s discovery just posits more questions about the school that aren’t fully answered, even when we reach the cliff-hanger ending. Onward to the sequel then!

Overall, this is an admirable début effort – an intriguing well-paced plot, lots of thrills and suspense, a surprising twist, there’s even some age-appropriate non-mushy light romance for those who like that in their YA reads.

Variant by Robison Wells (HarperTeen) is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition, Hardcover edition and Audible audio edition. *also available at Amazon UK.

The eBook is also available at B&N, Apple iBooks, Kobo books

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