Wednesday, December 28, 2011

13. The Unwanteds

By Lisa McMann
Aladdin, 2011
$16.99, ages 10-14, 400 pages

Teens condemned to death for having creative thoughts are spirited away to safety, in this first book of a wondrous new series by the author of the Wake trilogy.

At the age of 13, the creative children of Quill are weeded out by their cold, oppressive leaders and put to death, for fear they will think for themselves and mobilize an uprising.

During the day of Purge, Alex Stowe, along with Lani, Meghan and Samheed, are marked as "Unwanteds," useless and dangerous members of society, and sent by bus to The Great Lake of Boiling Oil to be killed.

Just as guards known as Eliminators prepare to toss the kids in, a magician named Mr. Today secretly transports the teens into Artime, a magical realm he created within Quill.

For the first time in their lives, the teens are allowed to think for themselves and express their creative sides, as Mr. Today sets them on a path to become magical warriors.

With the help of a curious group of teachers, including an art instructor with octopus arms, they learn to use their innate abilities at drawing, drama and music to ward off an inevitable invasion by the Quill army.

Though the teens are nervous at first to show their creativity, having been blocked from doing so all their lives, their imaginations soon take off and they begin to bond as friends, and discover the strength of their talents.

Alex, Lani, Meghan and Samheed practice ways to combine their talents with magic. Some learn to animate origami dragons and make them spit fire; others splatter paint from brushes to immobilize would-be enemies by coating them in a shell.

But as the threat of being discovered becomes frighteningly real, it's unclear who can be trusted.

Alex feels torn between Artime and his ties to his identical twin brother Aaron, who remains in Quill, elevated to the status of Wanted.

He wants to tell Aaron he has survived, but he knows that Aaron is now entrenched in the Quillitary, Quill's army of obedient soldiers. Will Alex jeopardize everything to see him again?

The Unwanteds was a delight to read: the magical details alone kept me glued. Among my favorite details, faces that press through blackboards and talk to the kids.

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