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Monday, November 21, 2011

Variant--Robison Wells


The latest contribution in what is becoming a well-worn track in teen fiction.  Epitomized by Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games series  and continued in a myriad of others such as James Dashner's The Maze Runner series, the teens-in-danger zeitgeist recurs here.  But it is also very much part of a newer genre--the teens without guidance, the teens without adults,  and the teens threatened by adults (see Dashner).

A troubled teen who is shuttled from foster home to foster home applies to attend a very elite school in the wilds of Northern New Mexico.  He is dropped off by a woman who zooms away, pursued by two of the school inhabitants, but only after they have given our hero a mysterious message.

It doesn't take long to discover that there is something very wrong about this school.  There are no adults. None.  No one to do the teaching except other students, no one to do the cooking, maintenance, etc.  And from there, the story becomes one long attempt to escape from this place.

The book is well-written with compelling characters and an interesting rhythm.  The final "revelation" will not come as much of a surprise to those who are paying attention, but then the fact that the book ends up where it was clearly pointed to go all along speaks well for the author.

Robison Wells is brother to Dan Wells who is an author in his own right.  Dan Wells writes about another kind of trouble teen, young adult in his I Am not a Serial Killer series.  A series which is surprising in the turns it takes.

As to the present book--it is both interesting and compelling.  I would advise any parent thinking to give it to a child to read it themselves to determine whether or not it is entirely suitable.  There's nothing here that isn't in dozens of other quite similar books, but it is, at times, quite strong stuff.

And finally, I'm intrigued and perhaps a little worried about this trend in teen fiction.  It strikes me as a little bit symptomatic of the times (and I do mean symptomatic as in indicative of an illness).  But perhaps this is just another more concrete expression of the alienation that we see in Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace--in other words, very much a teen-theme in new drag.

****1/2--recommended with cautions for younger teen readers

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