The Unwanteds Review
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Creative kids (and grown-ups, too) are often seen as outsiders. People who like to write or draw or act or play music don’t always act the way they’re expected to act. To some people, they’re just plain strange. But in author Lisa McMann’s latest kids’ fantasy, The Unwanteds, creative kids rule.

The story starts in land of Quill, a serious place where people quietly follow orders, never questioning the authority of the great High Priest Justine. Each year, Quill’s 13-year-old citizens are sorted according to their worth. Those deemed Wanted are prepared for government positions. Those deemed Necessary get jobs that support life in Quill. And those deemed Unwanted—those who don’t always play by the rules—are sent to be purged in the Great Lake of Boiling Oil.

Alex Stowe is one of the Unwanteds. While his Wanted twin, Aaron, heads to the university, Alex boards the bus to Quill’s Death Farm. When he and his fellow Unwanteds arrive, however, they’re in for a surprise: instead of death, they’re given a new life in a magical land called Artimé.

In Artimé, Quill’s artistic Unwanteds are encouraged to be creative. They make new friends and learn all about art and music…and magic. But Alex misses his twin—and his desire to free his brother from Quill could put Artimé in danger.

Part dark, dystopian drama, part whimsical kids’ adventure, The Unwanteds is a magical fantasy that young readers and parents can enjoy together. Though the influence of other popular kids’ fantasies—especially the Harry Potter series—is evident, McMann gives the story her own unique touches, while setting the story in two unforgettably distinct settings.

Quill is a dark, dreary place—a stern, barbed wire-covered land that feels like something straight out of 1984. There, the citizens are encouraged to be mindless drones. They’re not allowed to communicate with other lands—for fear that they might spread their ideas. And something as simple as humming a tune could cost you your life. Artimé, on the other hand, is playful and magical—a bright, colorful place where creative people are encouraged to think and explore and develop their artistic abilities. It’s filled with magical creatures (my personal favorite: the squirrelicorn) and plenty of eccentric characters. The two lands are like night and day, and McMann draws them both so well that you’ll easily be able to envision them: Artimé in full color and Quill in murky shades of brown and grey.

Of course, not everyone in Artimé is happy and well-adjusted. Just as Hogwarts has its Slytherin, Artimé has a few residents who are still bitter about the lives they were denied in Quill. Will Blair tops the list, joined by Alex’s sometimes-friend (but mostly his frienemy), Samheed. Together, Artimé’s two bad boys give the story some added tension.

Alex, meanwhile, faces his own challenges. He loves his new home so much that he spends much of the book trying to figure out how to share it with Aaron without exposing Artimé. Unfortunately, Alex’s brooding (though often understandable) sometimes makes him a less than likable hero. It also makes the story feel darker and heavier than necessary. And, since he often separates himself from other characters, his relationships with his friends—like musical Meghan and storyteller Lani—don’t get the attention (or the development) that they deserve.

Still, artistic-minded kids will feel a strong connection to Alex and his Unwanted friends—and they’ll enjoy the action and suspense of this imaginative adventure. And since McMann closes the novel with a few subtle hints that there may be more conflicts yet to come, it seems that readers will soon be able to return to Artimé, to get to know these creative characters even better.

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