Middle Grade Book Review: The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

The beauty of The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann is that it is classic middle-grade; a colorful, creative children’s adventure that celebrates imagination, fantasy, and fun. The key is to approach it as such.  Admittedly, with reviews touting this dystopian fantasy as the next The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, my expectations were not only too high, but steered in the wrong direction.

The problem with comparing the world of Quill to that of Hogwarts or Panem is that while The Unwanteds does carry a dark undertone, it does not have the complexity of plot to pull-off a successful crossover to the adult world. While grownups (like myself) can certainly enjoy this imaginative universe, the strict dichotomy set-up between the power of creativity in Artime and the limitations of pure logic (as depicted in Quill) is a clearly pronounced message for children.

And the message is timely. Unfortunately, art programs in America’s public schools are routinely one of the first things cut to save money and resources. The message society gives to children is obvious: creativity takes a backseat to logic.

In Artime, however, imagination is not only a gift, but it proves to be a powerful weapon:  students win battles with words using “slam” poetry, thespians use soliloquies to stun their opponents, artists learn to paint themselves invisible, and musicians dispel singing charms to their defense. In this world not only is art fun, it’s vital for survival.

At a time when music and art is considered to be “extra-curricular” in a child’s education, it is important for children (and adults alike) to be reminded of the powerful and important role creativity plays in the functioning of society.

The Unwanteds is a much needed celebration of imagination, and an excellent addition to any child’s reading list. For me, the book perfectly embodies what Albert Einstien  was talking about when he said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

The Unwanteds is in stores now. Here is the official synopsis:

Every year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their deaths.

Thirteen-year-old Alex tries his hardest to be stoic when his fate is announced as Unwanted, even while leaving behind his twin, Aaron, a Wanted. Upon arrival at the destination where he expected to be eliminated, however, Alex discovers a stunning secret—behind the mirage of the “death farm” there is instead a place called Artime.

In Artime, each child is taught to cultivate their creative abilities and learn how to use them magically, weaving spells through paintbrushes and musical instruments. Everything Alex has ever known changes before his eyes, and it’s a wondrous transformation.

But it’s a rare, unique occurrence for twins to be separated between Wanted and Unwanted, and as Alex and Aaron’s bond stretches across their separation, a threat arises for the survival of Artime that will pit brother against brother in an ultimate, magical battle.

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