Book Review: The Unwanteds by Lisa McMannFriday, August 12, 2011
by Lisa McMann
by Lisa McMann
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for the chance to review the ARC. I received the copy for free and was not paid to review the book. (This review was written by Marianne Su, a writer and reader who loves a good dystopian story.)
When you find a middle grade book that can entertain, it’s great. When that book also has a message to share, it’s even better. The Unwanteds by bestselling author Lisa McMann does both.
Alex is an Unwanted in a cruel dystopian world that demands a total lack of emotion, imagination and the practice of the arts. Anyone who doesn’t fit in is sent to their death as part of an annual purging. Everything changes for thirteen year old Alex when he discovers on the day of the purge from Quill that it is not the death sentence he feared. Instead, it is just the beginning. Alex and the other Unwanteds are surprised when they are taken to Artimé, a hidden place that was created to secretly save the Unwanteds. In Artimé they are free to study drawing, painting, drama, music…and magic.
But Alex runs into trouble when he can’t stop thinking about his twin brother Aaron, a Wanted who is rising the ranks in the oppressive government of Quill. Alex is surprised by his twin brother’s reaction when Alex tries to save him, an act that exposes their hidden oasis and leads to a battle that tests the magic of Artimé.
While The Unwanteds is a fantasy, its underlying story of the idealists struggling against tyranny is one that reminds me of similar tensions in the real world. Younger readers may need help to understand the political relationships in the book, but this is also an opportunity for parents to discuss with their children the kind of hate and fear that makes one people ostracize another and the conflicts that can cause.
I understand how McMann’s story may be making a statement in favour of preserving the arts in our children’s education but my biggest issue with the book is the description of the Unwanteds as creative. In Quill, all creative people are discarded in favour of those who practice math and science. The underlying assumption is that creative thought doesn’t exist in math and science, which it does. I also wish that the author’s depiction of math and science wasn’t so one-sided. Yes, encouraging the arts in younger people is always a good thing, but let’s not stigmatize the maths and sciences in the process.
Having said that, middle grade readers will find a lot to love about this book. The characters are likeable and real, stumbling and making mistakes yet developing their own confidence as they go. Readers will also love Artimé and its cast of imaginative characters. Talking blackboards, transportation tubes, magic three dimensional doors that can take you places, and talking statues, are just a few of the many fantastical features of the magical place.
Overall, The Unwanteds is a book that will engage your imagination and keep you reading. It’s easy to root for the characters as we journey along in the story with them. I recommend this book for readers who enjoy fantasy like Harry Potter. Its magical and compelling story will entertain and open minds.