There are books that come along every once in awhile and hit you with a proverbial mallet, screaming “I’m an amazing book!” Then there are the books that sneak up on you and you only realize afterwards just how good it was.
This book somehow does both, and yet I am still glad for it.
Variant (Robison Wells, HarperTeen) starts off typically enough. Benson Fisher teenage boy who has lived a life in foster care is moving to a private school on a full scholarship and is quite taken by the mysterious nature of things. However, he soon realizes that there is much more going on when he is informed that there are no teachers or adults at this school; in fact, there are only four rules one must follow. Other than that, the schoolkids are on their own.
There are three groups in the school: Society, the kids who follow the rules to the letter of the law; Havoc, the rebel kids who act more like a street gang than anything else; and Variant, the group which does not fit into any of the other groups. Benson is quickly grabbed by Society as they try to recruit him to their ranks. A scuffle shortly breaks out and soon he is fighting against both Society and Havoc, having joined Variant despite his early misgivings of the group. He then learns about point system, the uneasy truce between the three groups and the strange things that go on at the Maxfield Academy.
The story is extremely fast paced, with Benson dodging both Havoc and Society as he makes his desire to escape known. More and more of the kids begin to alienate him as they remind him that he’s never had it “so good”. Benson, though, becomes torn as he realizes that he has feelings for one of his classmates, which could interfere with his escape attempts.
Then everything changes as a whole new angle takes place.
This book… wow. Just wow. I was engaged by the author from the moment I started reading and, the further I was into the book, the better the writing became. The characters were very layered and meaningful, nobody seemed to be a cardboard cutout of a stereotypical teen (or if they were, the more you got to know them the deeper they became) and the absolute gut-wrenching twist at the end makes you wonder just who is who and what is what.
I couldn’t get enough of this. I kept babbling to others just how amazing this book is, and I am very glad I waited to review this book at the start of 2012. There’s nothing like having one of my new favorite five books to kick off a new year, right?
Best of all: this is a YA-appropriate teen book with plenty of action, suspense and mystery in it with quasi-romance — enough to fit both the teen boy and teen girl’s reading requirements.
Buy this book. Don’t loan it out, though, because your friends will steal it and you’ll have to buy a replacement copy.
—Reviewed by Jason