Variant by Robison Wells is an interesting book, one that I still haven't decided quite how I feel about yet. It's a strange book made even stranger by the twists at the end, but I'm not totally sure it was... enough to make me reasonably suspend my disbelief and buy into the story. But overall, the reading experience itself was positive. Let me see if I can explain this better...
Variant starts with Benson on his way to a private school. He applied for a scholarship to escape the foster care system he's been (painfully) bounced through for years and he hopes that this is finally going to be a place where he can belong, make friends and not feel like a burden. But when he gets there, the school is seriously wonky and nothing makes sense. Almost immediately, he is wishing he could leave but it's impossible. No one ever gets out. The longer he stays at this school, the more confused he gets and the more he wants to leave. But everyone is telling him that he needs to stop thinking about life outside the school and settle in. But while there are things that are appealing about the school (ahem, Jane) he can't get over his discomfort and he still sits and plots his escape. And then, something happens, he sees something that changes everything and now he knows that he needs to get out of here. And he's going to need help. But the thing is, now that he's seen what he's seen, he doesn't know who to trust. And it's awfully hard to get a group together if you can't trust anyone.
I was really disturbed by almost every character in this book. The kids at the school have split themselves into three gangs. There is much explanation for this in the book, but basically it's a survival and safety thing. Of the three gangs, The Society is the one I found most disturbing. Each kid has a job at the school and The Society is in charge of security contracts. And they like it. In a school where detention means death, these guys gloat and smirk as they dole out punishments. It's a perfect illustration that power corrupts and I found it seriously disturbing. How can any human being gloat while doling out a punishment that to their knowledge equals death. *shudder*
Benson spends the whole book basically marking time while looking for a way out. I could definitely relate to that, because I can't imagine myself being sent to a place like this, that is essentially a prison (with no outside contact at all) and just being content to stay. I do get why most of the kids are relatively content — Trying to escape is punishable by detention, which they are all pretty sure equals death. But I can't imagine living like that.
For most of the book, I was really enjoying myself. I wasn't loving it, but I did really enjoy it and I was super interested in what this big twist that everyone kept talking about was going to be. And then it happened. And I was left feeling a little bit like, WTF?! I will say that I absolutely did not see it coming. And if you claim you did see it coming, then I will either think you are lying to seem cooler than everyone else or you have a seriously twisted thought process... And, while I liked that I didn't see this twist coming, liked that I didn't have most of the story figured out a few steps ahead of the book, I am also not sure I actually liked the twist and I'm left feeling a little bit like, seriously? Seriously?! You went there?! Really? That's what you decided to do?!
So, the jury is still out on this one. I liked the book, the writing was engaging and interesting and kept me guessing, but overall, I'm not sure I loved the story. I will also say that the ending definitely sets up for a sequel and that the sequel could take the story in a lot of different directions, some of which I think I would really like, some that I would not. So I'll definitely be excited to grab the sequel when it comes out (because if it doesn't, that's going to be seriously lame) and I'm really interested to see how this story plays out.