The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

Lisa McMann The Unwanteds

390 pp.  Aladdin (Simon & Schuster)  2011  ISBN: 978-1-4424-0768-8

Source: Received from the publisher

Interest: First MG title from author

Release Date: August 30, 2011

Summary (From Goodreads):

Every year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their deaths.

Thirteen-year-old Alex tries his hardest to be stoic when his fate is announced as Unwanted, even while leaving behind his twin, Aaron, a Wanted. Upon arrival at the destination where he expected to be eliminated, however, Alex discovers a stunning secret—behind the mirage of the “death farm” there is instead a place called Artime.

In Artime, each child is taught to cultivate their creative abilities and learn how to use them magically, weaving spells through paintbrushes and musical instruments. Everything Alex has ever known changes before his eyes, and it’s a wondrous transformation.

But it’s a rare, unique occurence for twins to be separated between Wanted and Unwanted, and as Alex and Aaron’s bond stretches across their separation, a threat arises for the survival of Artime that will pit brother against brother in an ultimate, magical battle.

The best way to describe Lisa McMann’s first middle grade title is “magical dystopian.”  This is a wonderful novel that both middle grade and young adult readers will love.  I can’t wait to add this to my classroom library; it will probably even make a fun read aloud.

The first thing I need to mention is the writing–it’s excellent.  I love Lisa’s YA novels and the writing style she uses in them.  Her books are read and enjoyed by both my low level and high level readers.  Her style and voice in The Unwanteds, however, is completely different, but in a fantastic way.  There’s something almost whimsical to her writing style in this book.  I don’t know if she did that on purpose to fit the book or what, but it stood out and won me over.

I’m calling this book a magical dystopian because it’s such an interesting mix of both.  Kirkus Reviews says this about The Unwanteds The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter.”  I agree with the Harry Potter comparison because the school, Mr. Today, and some of the characters are similar, but they certainly stand out as their own characters.  I can see some similarities to The Hunger Games like the Purge and the Reaping, but that was about as far as it went for me.  Hopefully that blurb will grab more reader’s attention, but I don’t want this book to lose it’s originality either.  Besides all of that, I noticed more magic and fantasy in this novel than dystopian elements.  Much of the novel focuses on the school and Alex’s and the others’ education and preparation for a possible battle with the Wanteds.  The characters are learning about life beyond the dullness of Quill and the use of magic.  The possible war with the Wanteds adds the elements of dystopia.

The world building, for the above reasons, is fantastic and I really enjoyed the characters.  The kids are at the perfect middle grade age, but they’re forced into a situation that causes them to become more mature.  They’ve moved on from a life of strict rules, to a school full of creativity, free-thinking, and choice.  They’re given these opportunities because it leaves them room to grow and mature.  I can see kids of any age responding to this in a positive way.  The element of mystery brought on by Mr. Today and the bond between twins, Aaron and Alex, really added to the story.  Mr. Today is a very compassionate and understanding man, but the way he speaks and acts leaves just enough to make you wonder what’s really going on.  I love that normally inanimate objects like whiteboards have become characters in the story.  This is an incredibly fun book to read.

Besides wanting to know if they were ever going to actually follow through with all the preparing for a possible war with the Wanteds, I enjoyed this novel thoroughly.  I really can’t wait to buy a finished copy and give it a home in my classroom.


  1. This book sounds wonderful! I think it’s great how Lisa is able to write such different stories and bring a unique voice to them all. I’ll pick up a copy next time I’m at the bookstore.

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