Thursday, August 18, 2011

Joint Book Review Discussion: Variant by Robison Wells + Giveaway

So Michelle of Galleysmith and I thought it would be fun to have a conversational review about a few of my dystopian reads this month. These will be more in-depth than my usual reviews and discuss plot points in a non-spoilery way.  We'll be posting about a different book every Thursday, and this week, VARIANT is up.

Here’s the official summary:

Benson Fisher thought a scholarship to Maxfield Academy would be the ticket out of his dead-end life.
 He was wrong.
 Now he’s trapped in a school that’s surrounded by a razor-wire fence. A school where video cameras monitor his every move. Where there are no adults. Where the kids have split into groups in order to survive.
 Where breaking the rules equals death.
 But when Benson stumbles upon the school’s real secret, he realizes that playing by the rules could spell a fate worse than death, and that escape—his only real hope for survival—may be impossible.

Michelle and I decided to discuss four topics: Genre classification, atmosphere, audience and length.  The first two we discuss below, the second two we discuss over at Galleysmith.

Genre Classification

The summary on the back of the book comes right out and calls this a dystopian thriller, comparing it to THE MAZE RUNNER, GONE and LORD OF THE FLIES.   Like the kids of the Glade in THE MAZE RUNNER, Benson and his fellow Maxfield Academy classmates are trapped in some bizzaro prison which may or may not be some sort of experiment. (Also, the elevators that transport food & goods to the kids room may be a nod to elevator in THE MAZE RUNNER). And like in GONE and LORD OF THE FLIES, the kids are left to their own devices - which results in violence.  The jury is still out by the end of the novel whether this is a dystopia limited to the school or if it has farther reaching implications. 

It’s hard to really say what the genre classification is here because (a) we can’t spoil the big twist which impacts this and (b) because we just don’t know what is going to happen in book two.  Could it go to dystopia?  Sure, the fact that these kids are being almost entirely controlled by their captors can lend itself to that genre.  But, at this time, I think that’s a bit of a stretch.

The fact that kids are systematically recruited for the school and are forevermore cut-off from the outside world gives it a very dystopian feel at least.  That the local authorities never came to check anything out also makes me think there may be something larger at stake here.

You make a good point.  I think this will be another book that can span across multiple genres effectively.  Since we can’t spoil the big twist and the ultimate ending of this first book I will say that I’m interested to see what happens next because I feel like the second book will go to show more dystopian elements than the first.

I’d read a sequel in a heartbeat.  I’m hooked!


Probably the aspect I liked most about the novel was the way Wells created this incredibly creepy atmosphere.  Benson is a foster kid.  No family, no friends, no one to miss him if he never gets out of the school again. We know from the first page that there’s something off about the place, and Wells plants clues leading up to his BIG TWIST that had me dying to know what was going on. Suffice to say, I was caught completely by surprise - and I love it when that happens.

I got a very West Side Story vibe from this book.  I kept waiting for the different gangs to start snapping, whistling and breaking into dance and song.  The author did a fantastic job making the school and general atmosphere feel a bit dated, you know what I mean.  There was this feeling of everything being old.  Furthermore, the school was this large hulking and overbearing place that was definitely a character of its own.  It ended up being the dark and ominous tone that did well to overpower and shadow some of what was really going on in the plot.  Like you, I didn’t see the big twist coming at all and when it happened because of the creep factor.

Can I just say now that I’d love to see this made into a Broadway musical?  Oakland and his gang could rattle their copious amounts of heavy gold chains, Isaiah and the Society could tsk-tsk and tut-tut judgmentally and the Variants could blow things up.  I will admit that I now have recurring nightmares featuring creepy deer and raccoons.

Don’t forget the bunnies!  You can’t forget the bunnies!

*sings* when you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way, From your first cigarette to your last dyin’ day!

Frankly, you could partner this book up with any gang war type story.  Maybe The Outsiders too.  Benson had a very “stay gold” quality to him in his optimism and dedication to freedom.  There were soc’s and greasers and the whole nine yards.

Seriously though, I do think the gangs were a great distraction to the bit plot element that was revealed much later.  Without all that I suspect I would have been clued in about what was going on much earlier.  So creepy tone partnered with violent tendencies partnered with hinky group dynamics definitely masked the “good stuff”.

Oh God! Why did you have to go and remind me of the bunnies?!

Read the rest of our discussion over at Galleysmith.

Zombie chickens say: Cool twist for fans of something different. (and paintball)

VARIANT comes out October 4, 2011.  Find out more about it at the author’s website

Thanks to HarperTeen, I have one advanced reader copy up for grabs that I can ship internationally.  Enter to win by August 27, 2011 at 11:59 pm CST by filling out this form.  Good luck!

Song for the Ultimate Dystopian Playlist: Police Me by Tori Amos. Sample lyric: “Can they monitor how you think? They’ve got their own remote viewing.”


Anonymous said...

Sounds interesting. I realized recently that I've never read a YA book by a male author, so I'll definitely make a note of this book.

Thanks for the non-spoilery review!

sRy_ said...

Unconventional conversational review ;)

Stephanie said...

I have been hearing a lot about this book and how much advance readers have loved it so I am really excited to read it! Thanks for doing a giveaway!

Alyce said...

You guys are so entertaining! The book sounds very interesting (and a tad creepy). :)

Zibilee said...

So many comparisons with this book! I was thinking that the synopsis made it sound like Lord of the Flies, but also you guys mention quite a few others as well. I have to say the West Side Story comparison cracked me up! How weird would it have been for all of them to break into snapping and dancing?!? I have to agree that this one sounds interesting, and that all your mention of a big twist really gets me rather excited about this book. I love a game changing twist in books like this. I will be interested in hearing how the second book comes off as well. Very fun little joint review, guys!

Evie said...

I just finished reading Gone and it's great. So I think I'm going to like this one.
Thanks for the chance.

ArtemisG said...

Great post! Thank you for the giveaway.

Jessy said...

It's great to get two different perspectives on this book. Thanks for the interesting post.

ZoeRainDasherBenji said...

Somehow Variant feels different from the other YA dystopian novels.