Friday, September 2, 2011
Review: The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
In the land of Quill, all thirteen-year-olds are sorted into one of three categories: Wanteds, Necessaries, and Unwanteds. Wanteds and Necessaries remain in Quill to keep the land running, and the Unwanteds are disposed to their deaths for their violations of creative expression.
Twins Aaron and Alex get separated when Aaron is chosen as a Wanted and Alex is Unwanted. But “Death” is not at all what Alex and the other Unwanteds expected. Instead, they are transported to the magical world of Artime, run by Mr. Today, who teaches the Unwanteds how to use their creativity in magical battle. For Artime is in danger of being exposed, and the Unwanteds will need all of their creativity and magic to overcome Quill’s armies.
A book being touted as the next Harry Potter certainly has a lot to live up to, and while Lisa McMann’s first middle-grade fantasy THE UNWANTEDS doesn’t quite have the immortal boy with the lightning bolt scar’s charm and uniqueness, it nevertheless will be an enjoyable read for the younger reader.
Reading THE UNWANTEDS felt as if I were carrying out my childhood dreams. When you were little, did you ever daydream of living away from home in a magical mansion where every one of your whimsies was right at the tip of your thoughts? Yeah, that was probably the number one thing I thought about during my free time. In that sense, then, reading THE UNWANTEDS was almost a literal return to my childhood. The youthful delight of having near-complete control over your own life; of having magic at your command; of attending an eternal summer camp…that’s part of what you get, reading THE UNWANTEDS.
But not all of it. THE UNWANTEDS contains distinctly dark themes of creativity versus logic, imagination versus asceticism, that make it darker than your usual magical children’s tale. This is part dystopia, after all. More sophisticated readers might find the literal impending war between creativity and pragmatism in the book a little too literal in terms of the book’s themes, but younger readers will probably get a kick out of the minimalization of gray areas.
My biggest problem with THE UNWANTEDS, the one that made me unable to finish the book, was that I simply didn’t connect with or care for any of the characters. Alex and his Unwanted friends tended to blend indistinguishably into one another, and were being pretty snippy and immature pre-teens for the most part. That’s not the problem—after all, Harry Potter was pretty unbearable for many of his adventures; it was more the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to feel bad for the characters or to care about how they ended up.
It is unfortunate that the power of such a magical premise was diminished by bland and unsympathetic characters. This won’t deter all people from reading and enjoying THE UNWANTEDS, but as far as I’m concerned, my lack of connection to the characters draws me away from this adventure and towards more character-driven fantasies.
J. K. Rowling
Margaret Peterson Haddix
Cover discussion: Quite cool. It's hand-drawn, but with a hint of computer animation. Will probably appeal to video game lovers.
Aladdin / Aug. 30, 2011 / Hardcover / 400pp. / $16.99
Review copy sent by publisher.