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Book Review

The Unwanteds

The Unwanteds
by Lisa McMann

Contains: Violence
Recommended age: 14+
Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Series

The Unwanteds is pitched as “The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter.” The story opens in the grim, Orwellian world of Quill, where parents and children spy on each other and their peers to report the undesirable behaviors and qualities of “Unwanteds,” who will be disposed of at age thirteen during the annual “Purge.” Fortunately, things aren’t as bad for the Unwanteds as it appears. When all seems hopeless next to the “Great Lake of Boiling Oil,” the teens suddenly find themselves no longer in the bleak, enclosed land of Quill, but under the bright sun of Artimé, a magical world created by “Mr. Today.” In Artimé, the unwanted children are educated in the arts — painting, acting, and singing — but are also taught how to use magic. Mr. Today encourages the children to develop their talents and magical abilities to help defend Artimé against a possible attack by Quill.

The vast differences in the two lands, which actually are on the same island, are shown through their competing values. Militaristic and authoritarian, Quill emphasizes blind obedience, rigid discipline, and no expression of emotion or creativity. The leaders of Quill divide the population into three classes to keep hold of power: Wanted, Unwanted, and Necessary. Necessaries are not disposed of but kept alive as laborers to provide for the Wanteds. In the end though, it is the Wanteds and Necessaries who are actually “purged.” They are euthanized, “put to sleep” as the book says, for the good of Quill when they are deemed too old or no longer useful. Parents who produce two Unwanteds are also “cut off from reproducing.” In Artimé, on the other hand, the very qualities that cause people to be labeled as Unwanteds in Quill are promoted : creativity, artistic talent, free thinking.

The story follows this dynamic through twin brothers, Aaron and Alex Stowe, who grow up in Quill. Alex is labeled an Unwanted for fatal acts like drawing a house in the mud with a stick, but Aaron is labeled a “Wanted” for telling on his brother and others. While Alex is destined for disposal, Aaron is marked for higher education at Wanted University where the future leaders of Quill are trained.

Alex accepts his fate and is, of course, pleasantly surprised to find that the Purge does not include being boiled alive. He and his friends find Artimé much to their liking. Besides learning magic, they have plenty of free time to hang out, flirt, and enjoy the luxuries of their dormitory-style lodging with milkshakes, music, and all the food they can eat. The setting also allows for a cliché (and inapt) teenage relationship to develop between Alex and Lani, one of the other Unwanteds. These predictable plot lines make the story even more similar to other teen series like Harry Potter or Ranger’s Apprentice.

The two worlds inevitably become aware of each other because of Alex’s attempts to reconnect with and redeem Aaron. The leaders of Quill are disgusted to find the Unwanteds alive and immediately declare war. Alex and Aaron are forced to decide what matters most to them and where their true loyalties lie.

The Unwanteds is recommended for ages 8-12 on Amazon, but should only be read, if at all, by older more mature readers because of the brutal procedures casually described throughout the book and the lifestyles displayed in both Quill and Artimé. The cruel world of families turning each other over to “Big Brother” is tough enough for a young mind to digest and can be brutal on an emotional level, particularly the indifference of parents to their children being taken away for destruction. Although the Unwanteds survive, they are often left with equal feelings of hate or indifference toward their parents. The dormitory life in Artimé creates a superficial view of teen life and happiness. The twins reflect the drastic difference in lifestyles: Aaron lives a life of Spartan depravity and cruelty to those beneath him, Alex paints and dates as a thirteen-year-old. While Alex, the main character, does act bravely, at times he is not quite a model for boys as moodiness and anger dominate him for half the book. This fictional, conflicted world provides little merit for readers of any age. I recommend passing on The Unwanteds series in favor of others.

Discussion Questions

  • How do Alex and Aaron view their parents?
  • How does Alex deal with difficulties and set backs?
  • Does Mr. Today ever go too far with his decisions regarding Alex and Aaron?

About the Reviewer

Jimmy Callahan

Director of Alumni Relations, AP U.S. History
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