Lately, I’ve become quite disgusted with the newest books available to middle school and teen readers. Such books, filled with inappropriate content, serve little purpose to better the minds and souls of young, impressionable readers. Not so with The Unwanteds.

I first saw The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann on the new releases shelf at our library. The cover, featuring a flying stone cheetah and tiny paper dragons whizzing about, immediately grabbed my attention. After reading the inside flap, I took the book home, hoping for an exciting story with fresh ideas. I wasn’t disappointed.

The Unwanteds starts with The Purge. Every year in the land of Quill, thirteen-year-olds are separated into three categories—the Wanteds, the Necessaries, and the Unwanteds. The Wanteds are sent to the Wanted University, where they learn how best to serve Quill and the High Priestess, Justine. The Necessaries are allowed to carry on their lives. Death awaits the Unwanteds, whose only crime is being creative. Drawing, singing, telling stories—all mean capital punishment for young Quillians.

Alex is one of the Unwanteds, sentenced to be thrown in The Great Lake of Boiling Oil at the dreaded Death Farm. His identical twin, Aaron, is a Wanted. Alex and the other Unwanteds are taken to the Death Farm—but death isn’t to be their fate. Instead, they are rescued by a mage named Marcus Day, who has created a refuge for the Unwanteds called Artime. In Artime, creativity is honored and encouraged, and the Unwanteds develop their skills, learning how to use art and magic for beauty and weaponry. Longing to bring Aaron to Artime, Alex begins searching for a way to bring his brother to his new home. However, Aaron is rising in the ranks of the Quillian government. It is only a matter of time before Artime is discovered.

I enjoyed this book for several reasons. The author clearly put time and effort into creating her world. While Quill is reminiscent of many other dystopian worlds, such as the ones created in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and The Giver by Lois Lowry, it still has its own flavor and isn’t a direct copy of anything. Artime is unlike any other fantasy world I’ve ever encountered. Tweaking modern technology and inventing some of her own, McMann creates a unique and fresh world.

The Unwanteds isn’t the perfect book by any means, however. Several characters deal with anger and bitterness towards others. In the beginning of the book, conflicts are resolved by fighting and harsh words. As the book progressed, the characters began to mature. There is also a romantic plotline that the book would have been stronger without. While there were no graphic portrayals, I felt McMann was a little distracted by the romance element in the story. Instead of focusing on Alex’s relationship with Aaron, McMann spends a great deal of time developing this romance, only to lead it nowhere by the end of the novel.

All in all, The Unwanteds was a wonderful book, filled with imagination and character. I wouldn’t recommend it for very young readers, as there is a good amount of violence at the end. The content of the book is excellent for discussion and I will be definitely be searching out more books by Lisa McMann.

Shane Hastings

Guest Author