So, Variant comes out NEXT WEEK! Crazy. And today the good news has been flowing in. A starred review from VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates, magazine for YA librarians), and an awesome review from Booklist!
VOYA (Starred Review)
Benson Foster will try anything to escape the foster care system, but when he enrolls in Maxfield Academy, he finds that he is escaping one type of hell only to be trapped in another, truly deadly, one. There are no adults at the academy; the students do everything from teaching to preparing meals and security. There are four main rules: no sex, no violent fighting, no refusing punishments, and no trying to escape. Students who break the rules are sent to detention, and they never come back. Benson is trying to find a way to escape, and along the way he finds some devastating secrets: some of the students are not who they seem to be.
Variant is an exciting, edge-of-your-seat read that combines psychological themes from works like Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game in a truly unique way. There are a couple of twists that are truly surprising and up the emotional ante of the story. From the moment Benson enters the academy until the very end, readers are caught in a tight, tense thriller. What is the academy and why are the students there? Wells does a good job of both universebuilding and character development, as the rules unfold and character roles become clearer. There is a slow unfolding of academy secrets that proves to be just the right pacing. In the end, Benson may escape the walls of the school but he stumbles upon an even bigger mystery. Variant should join the ranks of today’s must-read science fiction and fantasy series . This is a highly recommended addition to any collection for teens.
Lots of YA novels begin with a character arriving at new boarding school, but it is safe to say there has never been a boarding school like this. Perennial foster kid Benson arrives at Maxfield Academy armed with an unexpected scholarship and some cautious optimism, but within minutes of arriving he realizes something is terribly wrong. There are no adults. There are towering walls topped with barbed wire. Messages are sent by computer to instruct the teens in both academic pursuits and paintball war games. Most immediately worrisome is that the student body has split itself into three warring factions: the Society (tasked with keeping order), Havoc (food preparation as well as serious attitude), and the V’s (whose chief shared trait is a desire to escape). This is good old-fashioned paranoia taken to giddy extremes, especially when a totally implausible—but nonetheless enjoyably insane—twist upends the plot in the final act. Take Veronica Roth’s Divergent (2011), strip out the angst, add a Michael Grant–level storytelling pace, and you have this very satisfying series starter.
— Daniel Kraus