Variant by Robison Wells
Set in the private school from hell, Variant by Robison Wells has some great plot twists and a killer of a cliffhanger ending, but none of the characters really stick with you after you put the book down.
Benson Fisher has moved from foster home to foster home, switching families and changing schools as often as a teenage girl changes outfits. He’s tired of being the new kid. So he jumps at the chance to go to Maxfield Academy on scholarship. He’s ready to have a social life, to play sports, and to not work every hour he’s not at school. But Maxfield Academy isn’t the cozy prep school the website advertises.
It’s more like a prison full of teenagers. There are no teachers, no janitors, no security staff. The students fill all of these positions. The four main rules must never be broken: no sex, no violent fights, no trying to escape, and no drinking. If you break one of these rules, you get detention. And nobody ever returns from detention. Cameras constantly monitor the students, and if you step out of line, they (whoever they are) will know.
The school has broken up into three gangs: Society, Havoc, and Variants. Society believes in following the rules, hoping that good behavior will mean they’re allowed to leave the school. Havoc has a pention for violence and mayhem, starting fights and being general assholes. And Variant, well Variant just wants to escape.
The characters are interesting, but hard to empathize with. They’re stuck in this strange school, desperately trying to follow the rules, being monitored by who knows who, and always wondering why. Why are they not allowed to leave? What is the purpose? Who is watching them. Benson is aggressive, but often selfish. He doesn’t think his actions through, and always ends up surprised when somebody else gets hurt (0r worse) as a result. But he’s pretty resilient, taking beating after beating and gets up again and again. He’s the driving force of the book, and a driving force for change at the school.
And one of the major twists of the book makes it even harder to empathize with the students…but you’ll have to read the book yourself to find out.
A few things did bother me. Mainly, why didn’t the students ever try and rip the damn cameras down? Stick gum on the lenses? Have a computer whiz run a loop of empty hallways? They were all very aware of being watched, but took little to no effort to avoid cameras. Little things like this went unexplained, and became annoying.
Overall, Variant kept me entertained and always wondering why. It’s an interesting first book in the series, and the cliffhanger kept me wanting more.