Friday, February 3, 2012

The Unwanteds

In Quill, thirteen-year-olds are categorized as Wanted, Necessary, and Unwanted. The Wanteds attend university, the Necessaries do manual labor, and the creative Unwanteds are sent to their death. When Alex Stowe is sorted into the Unwanteds, he must leave behind his Wanted twin brother Aaron. What Alex and the other Unwanteds find at the Death Farm is a secret world called Artim̩, full of magical creatures and new outlets for their creativity Рdancing, drawing, acting, and singing. With the two societies existing so closely, it is only a matter of time before there is a showdown between the magical weapons of Artim̩ and the military strength of Quill, with the brothers divided.
Lisa McMann’s first foray into middle grade books has many features that will appeal to younger readers. Alex and his Unwanted friends are well-developed and likable. I enjoyed that they were flawed and all of their choices had consequences. McMann strikes the right balance in portraying complicated family relationships, particularly with twins.

The highlight of The Unwanteds is the way that the arts are used as weapons, such as the imaginative “slash singing, slam poetry, and fire steps”. My favorite parts of the novel involved the students learning about the arts, such as discovering music or creating fire-breathing origami dragons. At 400 pages, it is not a short novel and I wish there had been more scenes with the students in their classes and developing their powers. I was also concerned that there seemed to be a message that creativity exists only in the arts, while the children who liked math and economics were not seen as creative. As an adult reader, I realized that the reason Aaron was a successful Wanted was because he was creative, but this point may not be clear to middle grade readers.

Kirkus called it “The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter,” which I believe does a disservice to The Unwanteds. Readers who pick up this novel expecting it to be The Hunger Games will feel manipulated by the lack of similarity between the two. Likewise, readers who want this to be a Harry Potter novel will be disappointed when it doesn’t measure up. The Unwanteds is an enjoyable introduction to dystopian novels on its own and when I recommend it, I won’t mention either of those other titles.

Read this and other reviews at Young Adult Books Central.

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