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The Unnameables

3.34  ·  Rating Details ·  361 Ratings  ·  90 Reviews
Medford lives on a neat, orderly island called—simply—Island.
     Islanders like names that say exactly what a thing (or a person) is or does. Nothing less.
     Islanders like things (and people) to do what their names say they will. Nothing more.
     In fact, everything on Island is named for its purpose, even the people who inhabit it. But Medford Runyuin is different. A
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published October 1st 2008 by HMH Books for Young Readers (first published January 1st 2008)
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Mar 25, 2011 Sesana rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy, middle-grade
As a baby, Medford Runyuin was shipwrecked on Island, where everything is named after its use and everything must have a use. Anything that does not is Unnameable, and should be destroyed. And anyone that makes or does Unnameable things should be banished. This is of particular concern to Runyuin, who has been secretly carving beautiful, Unnameable objects.

The best advice that I can give in reading this book is to avoid thinking about the setting much. Booraem had a good idea (a society where a
Roxanne Hsu Feldman
Nov 28, 2008 Roxanne Hsu Feldman rated it really liked it
This is an allegory that works on many levels, made rich with well-portrayed and multi-faceted characters. Which, I guess, renders it not a true allegory since the characters are not all confined to single traits or symbolic equivalents. At the very beginning, I was dubious: thinking that the symbolism and "names" are all too transparent and too easy to predict. And yet, with the blusterous arrival of the Goatman and then all the tangential but significant side trails and events, the story drew ...more
Kate Hastings
Apr 23, 2009 Kate Hastings rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Grades 5-8, fantasy, dystopia
RL 690. On the Island of Names, every thing and every person has its place. People are named after their professions (potters, learneds, carpenters, smiths, etc.) and objects are named for their use (horned milk creatures--cows). Anything without a use is disregarded and unnamed. Use is the most important reason for existence, and therefore spending time looking at useless items or creating them comes with harsh punishment--banishment.

So is the story of Medford Runyuin. He was not born on the is
Maddie Desfosses
Apr 13, 2011 Maddie Desfosses rated it really liked it
I got to meet the author. She's from Maine and came to my school book club!!
Dec 14, 2008 Lucy rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, middlegrade
Medford Runyuin lives on an island called Island. Everything and everyone who lives on Island is named for their purpose. Everyone except Medford. Medford, a foundling from Mainland whose parents died at sea, is saddled with a meaningless name, yet another reminder that he doesn’t fit in. To make matters worse, Medford is hiding a secret. It a secret so deep and terrible that he can’t tell anyone—not his foster father Boyce Carver, not his best friend Prudy Carpenter.

On Island, the things that
Joséphine (Word Revel)
At the beginning I felt that the style of writing was kinda dry and the pace at which the narration was set up was unyieldingly slow. After reading on though, I thought that it was a smart choice on Ellen Booraem's part. Introducing the setting and the characters before delving into the plot allowed for a greater appreciation and understanding of what was happening.

The reason I loved this novel were the way the themes were explored while bringing alive this rather mystical world with a historica
Jul 12, 2010 Jacki rated it it was ok
Shelves: teen-fiction, fantasy
The cute plot of The Unnameables is weighed down by its slow start. Allow me to summarize the first 68 pages: A "goatman" (satyr-like creature) is in a boat, but let's leave him to spend 66 pages explaining the dull coming-of-age rituals of a small island community that holds to the puritanical view that only utilitarian objects and people should exist. Excessive time is given to characters correcting each other: Chickens aren't chickens, thank you, they are Egg Fowl, and goats are Lesser Horned ...more
Feb 20, 2010 Becky rated it liked it
Shelves: teen, fantasy, 2010
3.5 stars.
This story takes place on a small island where the population lives in a strictly controlled, puritanical society masquerading as a utopia. Uniformity is essential to the stability of this society. Only Useful items and tasks are allowed. Creativity and change is not only frowned upon, but can be punished with banishment to the Mainland.

With all the thou’s , thee’s, ye’s, and wouldst’s , this book feels as if it were written about colonial New England, but quotations from islander jour
Rachel Lehman
Oct 15, 2010 Rachel Lehman rated it did not like it
Medford Runyuin lives on a small Island called, just that Island. No one on the Island is allowed to call things by any name other than its use. If it has no use it has no name. Medford wants to appreciate the finer things in life but it is strictly forbidden. The Island is not a great place but it is better than nothing. Then one day the goat man comes to Island. The goat man disturbs the peace with his impracticality and frivolousness. The Island is changed but not nearly as much as Medford.

Aug 01, 2008 Dale rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
The Unnameables, the debut novel by small-town reporter and editor Ellen Booraem, is intended for readers aged 11 to 13. The novel takes place on an island whose social structure is guided by the principles of utility and stability to the exclusion of all else. The people are named after their trades (Carpenter, Tanner, Carver, etc.) and are led, or supervised, by a council of 'Learneds' who are the keepers of the texts that guide all social and political decisions on the island.

There are a numb
Feb 03, 2009 Catherine rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009, jenns
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jennifer Wardrip
Reviewed by Rebecca Wells for

On the Island, everything has a name and a place, and if it doesn't, it should. Those things that don't fit into a category, that don't have a purpose, are the Unnameables, and are, by definition, suspect.

Medford Runyuin is dangerously close to being an Unnameable himself. While his fellow Islanders have practical names like Learned and Tanner, which correspond to their professions, his name means nothing at all. He is a foundling, washed ashore in i
Jul 25, 2010 Kate rated it liked it
Recommended to Kate by: Teen Book Club selection
I bought this book about a year ago, when the author (along with several other YA fantasy authors) visited my local bookstore. Much to my shame, this is the first of the batch of 6 or 7 books from that signing that I've read...

Medford Runyuin is the adopted son of a Carver. He lives on an island where everyone is named after their Use, and is constantly reminded that his name means nothing. After Essence Learned is forced into exile under mysterious circumstances, Medford's friend Prudy is forc
Deva Fagan
Jan 27, 2009 Deva Fagan added it
Shelves: 2009-read
I've been trying to write down my thoughts on this book for some time, and failing. It's not because I didn't enjoy the book -- in fact quite the opposite. But it's a very different book from any other I've read. It's a fantasy, yes, with the wonderful character of the Goatman popping his horned head into the scene, summoning up his winds and wreaking change in the world of Medford Runyuin. But it's quirky, and philosophical, and oddly old-fashioned (in a good way, in a classic way, even).

My fav
Nov 08, 2011 Carol rated it liked it
Medford Runyuin has a name that doesn't mean anything, at least not anything "useful". He washed up on Island's beach as an infant and was taken in by Boyce Carver. He is trained to follow in his foster father's footsteps as a carver. Medford has a secret that he can't tell anyone. His secret is Unnameable and could get him banished if anyone were to find out. As if coping with his secret isn't enough, a stranger shows up on his doorstep causing even more chaos. The residents of Island have a lo ...more
Jan 30, 2010 Chris rated it really liked it
The Unnameables takes place on "The Island." The society there was founded in the eighteenth century, thirty miles off the coast of "The Mainland," and is something of a cross between Puritan and Amish cultures. The people settled there to deliberately set themselves apart and live out their own egalitarian values in their own sheltered community. Those values have developed and morphed over time, but only slightly so, as the people are suspicious of any change and of most technology. Central to ...more
Jul 23, 2010 J rated it it was ok
This book is a little hard to categorize because it blends a historical setting with a quirky fantasy element. When he was a baby, Medford Runyuin washed up on an island, called "Island" by the inhabitants because it's the only one they know. This island is a world unto itself, because since the 1700's the community has cut itself off from the rest of the world so that it can live by its own rules. The rules come from The Book, which states that everything and everyone must be useful, and anythi ...more
Jun 28, 2009 Shawn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
Something happened when I finished this book....I smiled! An actual physical smile, not just a "think about how I liked the book" smile! I don't know if I can remember the last time that happened. The textbooks talk about a book "resonating" with the reader...staying with the reader after the story is over...or wanting to read the book again right away. This book did all of those things to me and more!

It was a well-crafted fantasy, the suspending of disbelief happening gradually and the setting
Mar 23, 2010 Nicole rated it really liked it
This book sits a line between middle grade and YA...though perhaps leaning more to YA in my opinion. Like many fantasy books, there's is a short period at that start of the tale that requires readers to "settle into" the world that the author is creating. There's a rhythm to how an often familiar but strikingly different world flows; how people communicate in this world; what is revered and what is taboo. Once I settled into the world that Booraem creates, I was hooked. Some of the plot twists a ...more
Aug 19, 2010 M. rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
It's nice to see that authors still try to write good dystopian fiction for middle school, even though The Giver set a ridiculously high standard. This was pretty good--a society that has been formed based on only doing useful things, and useless things--sculpture, poetry, arts--are banned. Of course, our hero (Medford) is a talented carver, coaxing animals and other shapes out of the wood he works with, hiding his light under a metaphorical bushel (literally, under his bed). This alone would be ...more
Apr 01, 2010 Bonnie rated it liked it
An enjoyable middle school fantasy by a first time novelist. Probably would be a good one to recommend to readers who enjoyed the City of Ember series. Also has strong boy and girl characters and set in a closed society-in this case an island some thiry miles from the mainland. Everything must have a name indicating its use and things that are not useful are not wanted-in fact, the "Unnameable" is greatly feared, and being associated with unnameable things can get a person banished. A person's n ...more
Aug 27, 2011 SJ rated it it was ok
I'm so disappointed in this almost good book. Good writing, good characters, interesting concept that has been done often before, but not quite like this. Yet, no. It just doesn't make the grade.

The story is about a small reclusive colony on an Island which has made a near religion out of living their lives in as Useful a fashion as possible. Only things that are Useful receive names and anything artsy fartsy is considered dangerous and grounds for being exiled from the community altogether. Ok
Dec 26, 2009 melydia rated it really liked it
Medford Runyuin lives on the Island, a place where everything is named for its Use and nothing Useless is allowed. If you bake, your name is Baker; if you carve, your name is Carver; and everyone follows the rules laid out in The Book. Medford hopes to be called Carver once he reaches adulthood, but is worried about banishment because he has secretly been carving Useless (though beautiful) works of art. Now, if this had been the entire story, it would have been fairly generic. However, Medford's ...more
Jun 06, 2009 Brandon rated it liked it
Shelves: harry-potterish
This book was really enjoyable. I picked it up while waiting for my best friend to get done with a hair appointment when there wasn't space in the salon for me to sit. There was a Borders around the corner so I fished it out of the bargin bin and enjoyed the first few chapters and a soy latte. It's pretty fast moving and fun. I did think that she was a bit too repetetive in her narration. Okay, I get it already, everything named after it's purpose and everything must have purpose. I'm pretty sur ...more
Feb 14, 2010 Joant rated it it was ok
I wanted to love this book. It is an dystopian tale that starts out so promising. The secluded, Puritan feel of the Island is well done, the clues to what is Unnameable draw the reader in. And the characters are rich and appealing. I was excited, thinking I had found something close to a book I love, The Giver. But alas, the action turns cartoonish (c'mon - everyone giving the Goatman napkins), crammed with resolving plot points and relationships . And no mention of the devastation the Islanders ...more
Aug 30, 2010 Nancy rated it liked it
14-year-old Medford lives on an island whose strict society allows only useful objects that are named. Anything not useful is ignored and not named. Every person carries the name of what they do... John Farmer, Mary Potter... A very controlled society. But Medford, is not native to this island. He washed up on shore as in infant and although has been assigned the role of carver of only useful objects, he knows he has a special talent for artful objects. These he must hide. One day Medford encoun ...more
Ricardo Leiva
on an island, simply named island, all that matters are the names of objects and peoples such as last names carpenter,carver,learned,etc. Though there are are things that don't fight into nameable categories these are called unnameables one such person exists on this island his name is Medford Runyuin he is the subject of bullying as unnamables are seen as useless and are automatically suspect. The arrival of a mysterious stranger makes Medford realize everything on island is not as it seems. Th ...more
Derek Arttus
Mar 27, 2012 Derek Arttus rated it really liked it
I liked the book even though it had a slow start and it seemed to be a more moderately easy read. I liked the idea of the book in it's overall story-line, I just thought that it didn't completely wow me. The Goat-Man is in my mind sort of symbolic of the unexplainable forces in the universe that don't allow us to make everything into a routine or label everything. I fealt like his character was sort of just a comical relief or set up to the action though rather than a strong character. I was abl ...more
Ann Mccann
Jul 24, 2009 Ann Mccann rated it it was ok
This was a so-so book (sorry, Ellen). It bothered me there was no resolution of:
a) the Goatman returning home
b) the wind-controlling powers (what is the point?)
c) Medford's parents (it was so vague in the beginning, that I got the impression there would be some sort of surprise information)
d) Percy and Medford's friendship
e) Master Learned's fate (it just seemed too vague that nothing really happened to him)

but I did enjoy:
a) the Puritan-esque lifestyle and language
b) the quotes at the beginning
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A former small-town newspaper reporter and editor, Ellen Booraem is the author of three fantasies for ages 10 and up: TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD (Penguin/Dial Books for Young Readers, 2013) SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS (Penguin/Dial, 2011) and THE UNNAMEABLES (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Books, 2008).

SMALL PERSONS has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and K
More about Ellen Booraem...

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