I started out thinking "Variant" by Robison Wells is yet another teens-in-peril at the hands of unknown, unseen, wicked-evil adults YA novel. Which, to be fair, it is. It's the first of... I don't know... a trilogy? Maybe. And the sole reason I gave this book a look is because Robison's brother, Dan, is among my favorite authors. His John Cleaver books are soooo good.
That's reason enough to give his brother a chance, yes? The beginning of "Variant" reminded me a lot of James Dashner's "The Maze Runner", featuring a group of teens isolated from the world in a compound of some kind, unable to leave and forced to comply with strange rules and activities without any real explanations. "Variant" is set in a school in New Mexico, and the first-person character of Benson is likeable, if not loveable. He's incredibly well adjusted, intelligent and self-aware, considering he's spent most of his life bouncing from one foster family to another, and he copes better than the average teen would with what happens.
The threatening atmosphere builds slowly, which is effective, the students have slight (but sufficient) character development, some paintballs and punches are flung about, the almighty "School" locks kids out and punishes randomly and without explanation, secrets tickle the edges of the story, but things really move slowly for a long time.
About 2/3 of the way into the book, I was this close (you know how close) to closing the book and reading something else when BANG! Wells surprised me and the story took off like a firecracker. I wish it had come a tad sooner-- I hope others stick with it long enough to get to the interesting part.
I thought the ending was fine-- some surprises, some random confusing plot points obviously setting up the next book(s), but it was consistently exciting and thrilling and suddenly difficult to put down. I hope the second book jumps in where this one left off and the action doesn't slow to a crawl again.
Would I recommend it? Sure! I told my teenage sons (who loved "The Maze Runner") that they would like it. It's very much a YA book, but still enjoyable for adults. I do look forward to finding out what happens to Benson and his friends/foes/fellow students. I also look forward to reading more by Robison.