The Unwanteds (Unwanteds (Numbered)) Paperback – 1 Aug 2012
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"Imagination runs wild in this creative adventure."
--#1 "New York Times" bestselling author Brandon Mull
"Reading Lisa McMann's THE UNWANTEDS was like discovering a brilliant,
lost children's classic--except it's never going to be lost, because
readers will never, ever forget the magic they'll experience in
--James A. Owen, author and Illustrator of HERE, THERE BE DRAGONS
The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter in this middle-grade departure from McMann's string of paranormal mysteries with romance for young adults.
On the day of Purge in totalitarian Quill, which is run by the High Priest Justine, 13-year-olds learn if they are deemed Wanted to attend the university, Necessary to tend the land or Unwanted and purged by execution. Without a good-bye from his Wanted identical brother Aaron, Alex Stowe and the other Unwanteds travel to the Death Farm. Instead of death, they meet the lush and magical world of Artime, kept secret from Justine by mage Marcus Today. In a third-person narration characterized by even pacing and whimsical inventions, Alex and his peers learn that their creativity threatened Justine's power. Surrounded by talking blackboards, transporting tubes and such fantastical creatures as an octagator (with the head of an alligator and body of an octopus) for instructors, the teens hone their drawing, music and acting skills while also wielding paintbrushes for invisibility spells and iambic pentameter to stun attackers during Magical Warrior Training, in preparation for battle against the Quillitary. As the youths explore fear, responsibility and free thinking, their spells may be used sooner than they think when Alex's twin bond is tested and rivals vie for Aaron's new position in Justine's government.
Blending elements from two popular genres, this is sure to be a double hit. - "KIRKUS, "April 15, 2011
About the Author
Lisa McMann is the New York Times bestselling author of the middle grade dystopian fantasy series The Unwanteds, the YA paranormal Wake trilogy, and several other books for kids and teens. She lives with her family in the Phoenix area. Check out Lisa's website at LisaMcMann.com, learn more about The Unwanteds Series at UnwantedsSeries.com, and be sure to say hi on Instagram or Twitter (@Lisa_McMann), or Facebook (Facebook.com/McMannFan). --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
The setting is the future in a place called Quill. Life there is not easy, especially if it is decided that you are an Unwanted. At the age of thirteen, it is determined that each citizen is in one of the following groups - Wanteds, Necessaries, or Unwanteds. The Wanteds are a privileged group given the opportunity for higher education and positions of power in society. The Necessaries are just that; they provide the necessary services required in daily life. The Unwanteds are sent to the Death Farm and exterminated.
Alex and Aaron are identical twins turning thirteen. They already know their fates. Aaron will stay in Quill and become part of the Quillitary and most likely move up the ranks to become a powerful leader. As a young boy, Alex showed creative tendencies when he was caught drawing in the dirt with a chicken bone. Creativity is not valued in Quill, which means all those with artistic talents are classified as Unwanteds.
The departure of the Unwanteds creates barely a ripple in the lives of those left behind in Quill. Alex's parents and brother almost seem annoyed during the brief farewell required when Alex leaves for the Death Farm. He joins the others headed toward their uncertain end, with only a hope that death will come quickly and painlessly.
Alex and the others soon find that there is nothing to fear. Upon their arrival, they are welcomed by a mysterious magician named Mr. Today and countless other magical creatures. The world they have entered is called Artime, and it is filled with color and beauty beyond their wildest dreams. It is immediately obvious that life in Artime is all about living and enjoying the creative pursuits they were denied in Quill.Read more ›
There were a lot of interesting characters like these that I'm sure kids would love, but I failed to connect too deeply with any of them. Simber, the aforementioned Cheetah statue was awesome (but every time I saw his name I thought of The Lion King so...that ruined it slightly) but I found the main characters, Alex and his friends, a little dull. They are a lot younger than me so perhaps that's why I had a hard time relating to them. There were some cute moments between them, but they're not the kind of characters I missed when I was done with the book. I also found the world building a little lacking. It didn't have enough detail for me to really understand why society worked the way it did, or to feel any of those disturbed, scared feelings a good dystopian should bring.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In reality, the Unwanteds are never killed, but secretly saved, hidden, and taught in the magical land of Artime. Artime is a physics defying country hidden behind illusions and the gates of the Death Farm. It's filled with rescued Unwanteds, magical animal hybrids, living statues, and a really cool mansion. For the past fifty years, the caretaker Mr. Today, has helped the rescued children build their creative talents as well as train them as magical warriors.
Story-wise, McMann has created a neat concept and her story moves at a rapid pace. The first three chapters were great and really took you into the stark world of Quill. Chapter four introduced Artime, and it was a bit overwhelming but luckily it was the only part of The Unwanteds that was like this. While the story focuses mainly on Alex, we do get to see things from his friends' POV and that really helps flesh at the characters as well as Quill and Artime. I loved that McMann's kids were allowed to be angry. They were labeled Unwanted and sent to die and they were terrified. Some abandoned their anger, some worked through it, and others were twisted by it. But none of the adults poo-poo'd their feelings. Nobody told them it would get better right away. In fact Mr. Today said it would take some a long time, if ever, to come to terms with what happened to them. In real life, many times kids' anger, confusion, or fear is discounted. They're told to "get over it" or "it will be better." Yes, it will get better, but don't imply that their feelings don't count. McMann gives her characters the chance to own their emotions and I appreciate that.
Unfortunately the difference between the two countries were so black and white and made to be so obvious that I felt McMann was trying to hold her readers' hand and point out the differences for us. I disliked her equally black and white take on creativity. In The Unwanteds it's all about the arts, be it music, acting, pinging, or writing. It leaves no room for those who are scientifically minded. It takes a really creative person to invent or discover things. Engineers and scientists have to think outside the box in order to create something new. Also, there was a bit too much melodrama at times and I couldn't help but roll my eyes. I don't think many Middle Grade readers are going to appreciate that. However, I do think this would make a great elementary book. While my fourth and fifth graders would recognize that McMann is doing some hand holding, I think they'll be a bit more patient with it and some of them might need it. I can also see reading The Unwanteds to second or third graders. I think they would enjoy it, the pace is great, and you could have some interesting discussions with the younger kids. Especially if you bring up the point that you can be scientific and creative.
I believe this could be a good introduction to the dystopian genre for younger readers. I really think this book would be best appreciated by 3rd-5th graders and I will be buying for the elementary school library. If this sounds like something you or your child would be interested in I'd say get it from a library. I'm going to give The Unwanteds 3 stars because I think it's an entertaining read for the right audience, but it's not for everybody.
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When Alex Stowe and the rest of this years' Unwanteds arrive at the Death Farm, he resolves to face the Eliminators as stoically as he can, but instead of execution by burning oil Alex comes face to face with something completely unexpected - a thing that never happens in Quill. The Death Farmer is a man literally unlike any other Alex has ever met. Marcus Today is a mage - an extremely gifted magician. Within the walls of the Death Farm Mr. Today has created Artimé - a magical world where Purged children can be kept hidden away from the eyes of Quill. In Artimé, creativity is not a crime, it's actually encouraged. For creativity, Mr. Today explains, can be a powerful weapon and the day is not far off when Quill will discover that those they have condemned to death are not dead at all - and you can be sure they will seek to rectify that situation.
Lisa McMann has a free pass with me. After the fabulous Wake trilogy and the brilliant Cryer's Cross, I'm going to buy and read anything she writes. I just know it will be worth it. So when Ms. McMann stepped away from the edgy, eerie teen suspense thrillers she's known for and created a middle grade fantasy, I was happy to go along for the ride.
Quill is a gritty, dystopian society, completely void of feeling or color. Hidden at its heart is this beautiful, magical world where everyone can be accepted for what they are. That's really the core of this novel - rejection versus acceptance - and the two worlds are so finely drawn they become characters unto themselves. The Unwanteds is told by a third person narrator, and the story primarily follows Alex Stowe, but every so often there is a chapter revealing what someone else is doing and thinking. These peeks into the life of Aaron Stowe, Mr. Today and other characters give the reader a chance to understand their motivations, which becomes crucial as the story races toward the climatic clash of cultures. At its heart though, The Unwanteds is Alex Stowe's story and he is someone readers will happily root for.
Any child who has ever felt different, who has ever been rejected or isolated because they don't think or act the same way that their peers do, will understand how it feels to be an Unwanted. Alex is a boy who loves his twin brother, despite the fact that Aaron clearly fits in as an ideal Quill citizen. Alex tries, truly tries to do the right thing. He wants to belong in Artimé as he never could in cold, heartless Quill. At the same time, he's not quite ready to abandon everyone who stood by when he was condemned to death. It is Alex's growth from an isolated outsider to a creative young man who accepts his individuality but honors the notion of community that drives this intricate and interesting fantasy toward its ultimate conclusion.(And the story does conclude, although there are certainly enough loose ends left to encourage a sequel.)
There are a number of secondary characters in The Unwanteds and all of them are clearly and sharply drawn. While some, by the very nature of Quill, are fairly one dimensional characters driven by ambition and a need for control, most of the Artiméans are much more complex. Creative does not always equal heroic, by any means, and Alex's friends have a wide range of interests, desires and motivations. This variety and complexity of personalities makes Artimé stand out in glorious contrast to Quill and gives this hidden community a rich, complete feel.
The Unwanteds is a first class example of dystopian fantasy, compelling and fascinating. I flew through the pages, alternately delighted with Artimé and horrified by Quill - but recognizing, all the same, that both places are consistent with human nature. Young readers are sure to enjoy Alex's adventure and I'm willing to be that most of them will want to know `what happens next.'
I feel like I should say something about the recommended readers' age. The Advanced Readers' Copy I had suggested 8-12, but I would have said 10-14 (or really, 10 and up, since young adults will enjoy this book too) was more appropriate. There's quite a bit of hatefulness here, as well as individual violence and battle scenes. More than that, there is a great indifference on the part of the Quill parents to the fates of their children, which I think some younger readers might find disturbing. I believe parents of younger - or more sensitive - children might want to read this book first before passing it on to their 8 or 9 year olds.
We soon learn that unbeknownst to the society of Quill, the Unwanteds are not thrown into a giant Boiling Lake as has always been believed but are instead taking to the society of Artime, which is exactly the opposite of Quill in that it is bright and vibrant and encourages children to learn magic through art. The issue is now that Alex is determined to "save" his brother, who might not want to be saved, even though he risks exposing Artime in the process. It's all a very cute fictionalization of the problems in public schools these days with the arts being cut out to save money, but as a novel it fell pretty short.
First, McMann's chosen style of magic is very scattered and seemingly limitless, so that when a serious problem arises I found it hard to believe there was any real threat at all because it felt like the people of Artime could simply abra cadabra themselves out of it. There WAS conflict at the end, but because of what I just said it all felt a little forced and unnecessary. I like the way she set up the magic in Artime, with the personalities of the blackboards and such, but other than the setting the magic created I didn't care for it much.
Second, I couldn't make myself care for any of the characters, their personalities didn't seem very consistent to me. The fact that they were 14ish didn't matter because they ended up feeling like 17ish instead. Actually, they more or less flip flopped back and forth between feeling like young teens and then older teens. I also don't think it helped that McMann gave us the POV of other characters sometimes, because she'd pay them a lot of attention at the beginning and then suddenly ignore them for the second half of the book, so anyone I could have liked kind of got forgotten.
I would say that this is pretty decent for a young reader if they're on a Magic High, maybe after finishing Harry Potter or something, but if they're more into the mature themes of those books then this will come off as too kiddish for them. It's an easy, light read, it just wasn't all that interesting.
When the Purge comes, the Unwanteds are cast out and sent to their death. The Wanteds remain behind to learn, follow rules and never step out of line. Alex and his twin Aaron will both face a different fate. One Wanted and one Unwanted.
The story takes place in drab, colorless and more than harsh Quill. Alex and his brother knew the day was coming when they would be separated. Alex, the Unwanted of the two is purged from society and taken away from everything he knows, while Aaron, the Wanted brother stays behind to go to school and learn ways to better Quill and the controlling people in charge. Quill doesn't sound like a place I'd want to live; I can't imagine anyone wanting to stay there for long. Barbed wire covering the sky, shared buckets of water for washing... yeah, not fun, no art or being creative in anyway... yeah, no thanks!
So, Alex, on his way to his death gets a shock when he, along with all other Unwanteds from his purge are saved and taken to a colorful, artistic and magical place called Artime. The best part of the story was watching the characters change as they learned that expressing yourself through art isn't a bad thing and it should be encouraged instead of taken away. Taking a persons creativity away takes away too much of who they are, what they are and what they will become.
The whole idea for the story was great... being punished, taken away and killed because of being creative in any way; I couldn't wait to read where McMann would take the idea. And yeah, she did run with it. However, I felt it was a tad flat. I didn't connect with the characters at all. I tried throughout the whole story to find something to grasp onto, but... just couldn't. And no, I'm not saying this is a bad book in any way, it was a great idea and a pretty entertaining story.
This is my first time reading anything by McMann, and I know it won't be my last. I have heard nothing but amazing things about her YA series. I look forward to reading more from her in the future.
Thirteen-year-old Alex is Unwanted. His identical twin brother Aaron is Wanted. Aaron hardly bats an eye as Alex is taken off for elimination. After all, he will soon be forgotten. That's how things work in Quill.
Quill is a bland and dismal place where strict order is maintained, largely through the fear of being eliminated, a fate which is apparently at the sole discretion of the High Priest Justine. The community is surrounded on all sides by high walls and covered with a barbed wire ceiling (for protection from the many enemies surrounding them, the Quillens are told). Each year, among thirteen-year-olds, the creative and otherwise pesky youth are labeled Unwanted and eliminated in the Lake of Boiling Oil. The remainder are dubbed either "Wanted" and sent off to Wanted University (and perhaps join the "Quillitary") or "Necessary" and sent off to do perform the menial labor of the community. Alex only hopes the elimination will be quick.
But to his shock - and to the shock of Meghan, Lani, Samheed and the other Unwanteds - elimination does not ultimately mean death. The Unwanteds are magically transferred into a limitless world physically contained within the space of a small field in Quill. This place is called Artimé and it was created by the master mage Marcus Today for the purpose of saving the Unwanteds.
Artimé is a bright, safe and open world in which the Unwanteds - much to their initial confusion - are allowed nearly unlimited freedom, especially freedom of expression. Creativity is encouraged and developed, and when students are ready, they are allowed to develop their creative gifts into magical abilities, such as the ability to paint one's self invisible or the ability to put someone to sleep by reciting a soliloquy.
While Mr. Today makes very few demands of his charges, he does request that they consider very carefully before they attempt any return to or contact with Quill. For many years, Quill has apparently been utterly unaware of the existence of Artimé, which ignorance has kept the Artimeans safe.
The newest Artimeans adjust quickly to their newfound freedom and even their long-repressed emotions, although there are periodic squabbles during acting classes when emotions run highest. Soon all the new Artimeans are beginning their Magical Warrior training - all except Alex, that is. Because he hasn't been allowed to begin his training, Alex believes he is a failure and feels Unwanted all over again. In his misery he acts out in a way that unintentionally might expose Artimé to Quill, but then, Mr. Today fears that day is coming soon anyway. In preparation for the possibility, Alex is finally allowed to begin training and soon catches up with his classmates.
Events continue apace, each leading inexorably to the inevitable confrontation between the worlds. Will the discipline and superior firepower of the Quillitary (more on that later) overrun the magical land of Artimé? Or do Mr. Today and his loyal followers have enough magic to hold the tide?
The book is quite ambitious and shows potential. The story is entertaining enough and the characters are more or less well drawn. But there are many flaws which lessen the enjoyment mar the work as a whole.
First, the author needs to tighten up on her point of view. She seems to be trying to stay with a tight focus on Alex as the main character, and for the most part, we see events through his eyes. But from time to time the author needs to let us know things that Alex can't know, so she diverts from Alex's point of view in ways that feel choppy and disconcerting.
Second, the Unwanteds' transition into Artimé is basically too smooth to be believable. In a very short amount of time the characters are familiar and comfortable with a whole range of experiences, emotions and even vocabulary that they would never have encountered in their life in Quill. For instance, on her first night in Artimé, Meghan talks to a blackboard (a system of magical message/communication devices which have their own unique personalities), and the blackboard tells her, "you'd be blunt too if you had to live in a party room." How in the world would Meghan know the concept or even the word "party"? In nearly all respects, the Artimeans adapt in a very short amount of time almost seamlessly to a world which would have been unthinkable only weeks or days before.
Third, it is evident that Alex alone seems to be suffering during this transition, yet no one talks to him. Mr. Today has decided not to allow Alex to train because of specific worries, yet he doesn't address those worries with Alex. Even when he allows Alex to train, he hints at, but doesn't spell out his concerns or say anything that could actually help Alex adjust and perhaps avoid the chaos that follows.
Fourth, even allowing for it being a magical world, Artimé doesn't seem realistic because the author never lays out what the rules or restrictions are. Even in a magical world, not everything can be possible, there has to be limitations to what magic can accomplish or what a single user of magic is capable of. Otherwise, what's the point? It's boring. In Artimé, there seems to be little limit to what can be accomplished. There are unlimited spells for accomplishing unlimited things. Unlimited people can fit in unlimited space with unlimited resources, all of which is created and maintained, on an on-going basis, by a single old man.
All of which combines to make the book rather unbelievable. For instance, we learn early on that the Quillitary vehicles are constantly breaking down. There is a water shortage, not to mention a shortage of gas, oil and other parts because Quill no longer trades with anyone. Their weapons are old bb guns and shotguns which often jam and break down (except for the guns of the governors, which are more powerful). Yet despite this utter lack of supplies or firepower, the Artimeans, who have vast arsenals of magical weapons at their fingertips, are afraid of the Quillens?
There are several other holes in the story that simply don't add up (most notably the relationship between High Priest Justine and Marcus Today and the creation of Quill and Artimé), but it would be impossible to address them in detail without giving away too much. The end result, however, is to leave a rather disappointed feeling. The book promises so much, but it needs a great deal more thinking through and honing before it can deliver.
As a final note, my advanced reader Amazon Vine copy came with a note from the author at the beginning of the book. The author tells us how she came up with the idea for the story based on events in the world and her own kids' lives, and she tells how this book is her response to such events. I hope that this note is not included in the final publication. Authors should never reveal too much of their process or intent, but rather allow their readers to decide for themselves the meaning and message of the book. I think this was part of my disappointment with the book - I felt that the author spent too much energy invested in her message rather than her story (and, for that matter, I don't know that the author herself is fully clear on the message she intended to convey). There's nothing wrong with a work of fiction having a moral or political message (indeed, all great literature does), but the reader shouldn't get beaten over the head with it.