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. (from Goodreads)
I was really excited when I got this book, mostly because I had tried to get it during BEA but was scared off by the truly massive line leading up to LM’s table. When I DID get it later, and when I read the first two chapters or so, I was thrilled. This is an awesome book, I thought. Those first few chapters were terrifying and exciting and really chilling, just like all good dystopian books should be. But then. Oh, but then.
Somewhere around a third of the way into the book, I noticed something. The Unwanteds had gotten…dull. It had lost its edge from those first few chapters. It had become kind of boring and ridiculous and a bit disappointing. I kept reading it, hoping that the awesomeness from the beginning of the book would come back, but it never did. The ending was slightly better, but slogging through the middle was horrible.
The disparity from the beginning of the book and the rest of it was weird. The first part read like a really solid MG/YA dystopian book. It knew what it was doing and what it was doing was scaring the pants off the reader. But the rest of the book? Read like it was trying to cuddle the reader gently to sleep instead.
I don’t think it helped that the dialogue was, for the most part, pretty unbearable. It was unbearable like how the dialogue from preschooler TV shows are unbearable to an adult watching them, and it dragged the book down even more. The characterizations were also pretty hit-or-miss; most of the kids were okay, but the adults were a little bit too much Merlinesque, with no other personality traits.
Also– okay, look. Dystopias already require a pretty heavy suspension of disbelief thing when you read them, right? But The Unwanteds took that even further, because not only is it a kind of sci-fi dystopian book, it is also an art-is-magic kind of fantasy book. People fight each other with origami animals and paintbrushes and stuff, and it’s presented as this totally normal thing.
No one questions how the hell people can paint doorways into existence or anything. They just do it. And that is completely weird when the dystopian part of the country thrives on not questioning anything, but the utopian part supposedly encourages it. But no one asks “how is it that these paper clips become deadly weapons”?
Finally, I thought it was really ridiculous how in the utopia they’re taught to be tolerant and kind and so forth, but then they think everybody in the dystopia is “evil.” Not “misguided,” or “confused,” but “evil.” A 12-year-old kid is evil? Really, The Unwanteds? You don’t think he’s just brainwashed? You can’t have compassion for a 12-year-old living in a really messed-up society?
I know this review is mostly complaints, and for that I’m kind of sorry. But you have to understand: this book was so disappointing. It started off great, and then it got bogged down in all this ridiculous stuff. It didn’t know whether it was sci-fi or fantasy. It didn’t know how adults or kids talked. It didn’t know that calling kids “evil” is, actually, a really bad thing. And it didn’t know that it would have been much better if it had retained that kind of writing that was in the first part of the book. It could have kept all the ridiculous stuff if only it had also tried harder to be scary and thrilling, instead of cuddly and vaguely nauseating.
Perhaps the problem comes from this being Lisa McMann’s first MG book. I’ve noticed that sometimes newbie MG authors dumb down aspects of their book to make it “easier” for kids to digest, and that tends to result in a weaker novel. Books don’t need to be dumbed down for kids to understand them. If The Unwanteds had smartened up a bit, I’ve no doubt I would have enjoyed it way more.
Read: August 11, 2011
I feel really terrible that this is another one of those books that everyone but me likes, but at least I’ve gotten over being nervous about posting my mostly-negative review.