By Robison Wells
HarperTeen, 2011. 376 pages. Teen fiction
Benson Fisher is a foster kid who has gotten a scholarship to a boarding school, the Maxfield Academy. However, when he gets there, he finds that everything about the school is seriously wrong. There are no teacher or administrators present and the students are divided into three different gangs who coexist somewhat peacefully, sometimes anyway. The constant threat of detention, which is equated with death, looms over them. While most students seem to accept that they're part of some weird experiment (although they don't really know what's going on), but Benson isn't willing to stick around. He's desperate to escape and wants to convince the others to escape as well..but he soon finds that he has no idea who he can trust.
This book started off pretty well; readers are drawn in with Benson, trying to figure out what the heck is going on and why--why are kids at a school with no teachers, why do they have to play weird paintball games, and what happens to the students who disappear? However, as interesting as the book is, the ending kinda throws a wrench in it. Things finally start to really unfold in about the hundred pages, but a lot of that is actually slow parts, and the real action and real answers come in the last thirty pages. It happens too quickly, it's really confusing trying to figure out who is on what side, and the book is left on a huge cliffhanger. (Okay, the cliffhanger might not bother some readers, but I personally want some sense of what's going on...particularly since I'll be waiting at least a year for them to publish the next book.) So, while it's interesting and entertaining, I think Wells has set himself on a very dangerous edge here--not enough questions were answered in this book, and the second book in a series tends to be the worst...so if he doesn't deliver a home run with the second book, it's going to be hard to convince readers to stick with it. The second book will really need to give a lot of answers and they have to come a lot faster--not in the last thirty pages of the book.
3.5 stars...but that's subject to change depending on what happens with the next book.
Mostly a clean read (there's some language, but nothing of the super harsh variety).
Good choice for teen guys.