Dayla's Reviews > The Unwanteds

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
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This review first appeared on my blog: Book Addict 24-7

What attracted me to The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann was the synopsis and how fun it sounded. I'm not going to lie, I didn't go into this novel expecting a Harry Potter story or something FANTASTIC.

The Unwanteds is a middle-grade level novel that follows the life of twins Aaron and Alex after they've been separated at the "Purge" that Quill, a city which punishes those who are artistic and celebrates (in unemotional ways) intelligence and drive, hosts every year. There, the children are separated into three categories: The Wanteds (which is the highest honour), the Necessaries, and The Unwanteds (which are the artistically inclined). While Aaron seeks out a higher position in the government in the world of Quill, Alex is sent to be executed for being artistic, only to find that he is actually going to a hidden world that helps the "Unwanteds" master their artistic skills using magic. What follows is a fun adventure that seems to run its course a bit rapidly, but leaves enough questions at the end for a sequel.

While McMann's novel was a fun read, it did have its issues (both minor and major).

The Negatives:

1. When I bought this book the first thing that I noticed was the headline that is sprawled above the title: "The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter". I've seen this so many times before and not just with these successful series, but with others (another perfect example is the comparisons that publishers make to Stieg Larsson's Millennium series). I find that using just the name of a successful series is a serious ploy to get you, as a consumer, to a) Spend your money in hopes of attaining the same joy you felt when reading a popular series for the first time, and b) To sell the book via word of mouth, i.e. "OMG this book really IS like The Hunger Games!" When deep down, you really know it's not. While I did enjoy McMann's novel, I found it irritating to see that this story is associated with what some may consider classics just so that readers will buy it.

2. One of the really frustrating things about this book is the way that time passed. I know that not everything should be told in detail, but McMann should have at least included SOME details instead of just saying "weeks passed". For example, we're already at the six month mark by page 114 (the chapter that's titled: "A Big Mistake") out of 390 pages. I think that the poor character development (another point) can be partially traced to the usage of too much time gone by without any real explanation.

3. Ah, the character development. I think that some authors believe that just because s/he is writing for kids that s/he get a freebie on character development. While yes, a lot of kids these days are more into television and what-not than reading, it doesn't mean they're ignorant. This generation and the future generations have the ability to gain knowledge in so many more ways than just school. So, with this in mind, why aren't some middle school literature authors treating them as intelligently as they should be treated? The character development in this novel was slightly irksome. This goes back to McMann's poor use of time. Sure, Alex goes through emotional issues with his friends, brother, and himself, but he doesn't really learn anything by the end, as you'd expect of a character who has gone through so much. If McMann would have described Alex's actions more in depth in the time that he spends in this hidden world, then maybe we would see some character development.

4. The other characters felt unrealistic. I know that these are young teens, but I wish that McMann gave more information about them. Little facts about their personalities and more insights into what these minor characters are feeling are given at the end of the novel. So, imagine that all you see is this one character and his moody, growing pains and only catch glimpses of the other characters. Let me make this a little clearer, imagine reading about Harry Potter during his moody phase in Order of the Phoenix, but not knowing anything about Hermione or Ron.

5. Sheri Radford on Goodreads commented on how this was just a mish-mash of all the popular series and story-lines put together. I agree, because there is so much going on in this book. It felt like everything that was written for teenagers 14 and over, was made "age appropriate" for kids 13 and under. I file this as a negative because it's such a cop out! I know that "originality" is a rare thing nowadays, but this was just beyond overkill.

6. The categories: Wanted, Unwanted, Necessary. They mean exactly what they imply. But what message is McMann sending to children who are artistically inclined as opposed to the ones who are scientifically, mathematically, or otherwise inclined? How about those who don't fit either categories? Think about it.

The Positives:

1. This is a fun, light read. Something that should just be taken for what it is, despite its flaws.

2. Seeing what the kids can do with magic and how the world emphasizes the use of artistic skill as a form of power.

3. The writing, though flawed in character development and in other forms, was fluid, which made the reading quite fast.
4. If McMann intended for me to feel disgust towards Aaron, she succeeded.

Despite everything, McMann wrote a story that can be enjoyable if it isn't taken too seriously. Will I read the sequel? Most likely, just for kicks. If you want to read this one, then I suggest you go in just for the sake of enjoying a book that regurgitates what you loved about The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and many other series. The Unwanteds is a fun read, but it shouldn't be thought of as the next innovative novel.

Happy reading!
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