FEEDBACK by Robison Wells
HarperTeen, 2012, 312 pages, 978-0-06-202610-1, Hardcover, $17.99
This review contains blatant spoilers for both Variant and Feedback. You’ve been fairly warned.
It’s always a little disappointing when a sequel fails to have the same spark as the story that came before it. Or maybe it’s a lot disappointing, depending on how badly you want the sequel to surpass the original work. For me, the disappointment that is Feedback is more of the amusing/bemusing sort–the sort that leaves you looking at the book with a confused smile and a “did he really just go there?”
Feedback picks up directly on the heels of Variant, at the point where Benson discovers that the human Jane is alive and well and living on what amounts to a prison farm. He has no choice but to accept Jane’s offer to hide him and Becky. If he doesn’t, Becky will die of her wounds or the people from Maxfield will catch them–or, possibly, both.
While there, he discovers that there are even more kids from the school living in the little town, and what’s more, they’re connected to the robots at the school, though they have no control over them. They claim that things in the town are more peaceful–there are no gangs or fights–though they’re still prisoners, but that doesn’t turn out to be entirely true. Meanwhile, the adults from the school are looking for them, and each time they arrive in the town to search, Benson learns new and unsettling things about the lives of the people who are helping him.
Of course, the majority of this plotline is quite slow, and most of it is punctuated by Benson asking questions that no one wants to answer. His constant litany of “why, why, why” and “who, who, who” is monotonous, especially since the reader isn’t offered anything in the way of an answer until the tail end. And half the time you wonder why Benson can’t piece things together himself. Perhaps if he weren’t so preoccupied with deciding which girl he really likes, Becky or Jane, he’d be more focused on actually escaping. (Of course, this could just be me venting about Benson. I didn’t care much for him in Variant, either, despite being the main character. His motivation was never very clear to me, nor were his reasons for always being such a colossal pain in the ass.)
There’s very little action in this volume, but that in itself isn’t bothersome. The slow start of the beginning is the only place where the non-action could have potentially killed the story–readers might get bored, though those who read Variant will probably want to continue even so. After the first 100 or 150 pages, the book holds a decent pace. Part of this is due to the constant surprise visits from Iceman, and, later, to the influx of new town members brought in from the school. That portion of the book exposes what was probably the darkest part of the story–one that could have been more deeply explored, though it would have been uncomfortable to read about.
This book doesn’t really work as a character study, which is a shame–in this sort of imprisoned town scenario, it would have been interesting. Unfortunately, you don’t see enough of anyone besides Benson to really get a handle on their motivations or feelings. But this is in keeping with the previous book, actually. I didn’t feel that there was a lot of deep character exploration there, either–more of a light skim.
Despite some of the issues that I had with Feedback, I still managed to read it at a steady clip. But when I reached the end, the entire story came crashing to a halt thanks to the abrupt, not to mention entirely unexpected, ending. In retrospect, I suppose I can see where the story was attempting to guide the reader to certain conclusions, especially when the subject of advanced technology would come up. That wasn’t nearly enough to make me think aliens, however, and I think I was just as surprised as the characters when that one was revealed (although, to be honest, Benson and Becky didn’t seem all that surprised…or perhaps you just have to roll with it when you’re already facing oodles of androids).
The creepy old android at the end was probably the most unsettling and interesting part of the book to me (well, aside from the bit that included Isaiah). Finally, something different and interesting comes into the picture, and the next thing you know…the story’s over. And then, of course, there’s the whole thing about the aliens, which I’m still not totally sold on. A lot more explanation needed to go into that or, at the very least, the denouement should have been more than half a page or so. I mean, I wouldn’t have wanted the story to drag on–continuing after that revelation would have started a whole other story– but maybe a couple more pages for the reader to regroup would have been helpful.
I suspect that there’s going to be a third book. I mean, I would hope so…I certainly don’t like the idea of this being a Steven Spielberg novel where aliens show up, the end, no more story ever. There wasn’t nearly enough wrap up for that, and as the alien said before disappearing, there are other facilities out there. Plus, the kids might go to the media or the authorities or whomever…but who’s going to believe them? And if they authorities did believe them, I imagine they’d want to study the implants in their heads….
In any case, my ultimate reaction to this book is to say it’s so-so. It has its good points, but I still think the first book was the better of the two. And until I see where the consequences of this ending might go, I don’t quite know what to make of it.