Title: The Unwanteds
Author: Lisa McMann
ISBN: 9781442407688
Pages: 390 pages
Publisher/Date: Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, c2011.

“I’m not sure we’re doing the right thing at all by holding him back.”
Claire sighed. “[…] Alex is spending all his free time alone–and frankly, I don’t blame him. Everyone’s angry with him, and he feels bad now that he’s the only one not in magical training. It’s only making matters worse.”
Mr. Today shook his head and sank back in his chair. “Oh, oh, oh,” he said quietly, “what to do? I am afraid that if Alex starts training, he will use his magic to find his brother. The powerful connection between twins . . . It’s a huge risk we don’t need right now, especially now that Aaron is in Justine’s good graces and under her watchful eye.” […]
“You must understand, my dear lady, that it is very different with twins. There’s a connection. A loyalty that exceeds all others.” […]
Octavia closed her lips over her teeth, folded several arms across her chest and frowned. “So it’s inevitable, you’re saying. The connection between twins is that strong that he’ll never give up?”
“That is what I believe.” (128-129)

Alex and Aaron are twins who are inseparable, until they turn 13. While Aaron is deemed Wanted and sent off to school, Alex was caught drawing in the dirt, which is an unforgivable infraction in the city of Quill. Alex and the rest of the kids who showed any sort of creativity are banished from the city and are convinced that they’re being sent the Death Farm to be tossed into the Great Lake of Boiling Oil by the Eliminators. Instead, they meet a magician named Mr. Today who has created a utopia for these cast offs. Their existence must remain a secret, but Alex can’t forget about the brother he left behind. When Alex learns about a threat to his brother, will he jeopardize everyone to try to save him?

The Kirkus review comparing this book to “The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter” was the main reason for me to pick up this book. Even without it though, I probably would have tracked it down considering Lisa McMann’s success with the Wake trilogy. But I can see why the Kirkus review compared it to those two books. It starts off like Hunger Games, where chosen kids are sent to what is supposed to be their death, only to usurp the existing government’s expectations. Like Harry Potter, the teens instead are sent away to this secret magical world which is hidden away from the uninitiated. What I really liked about the book was the action without the gladiator style violence and mature relationship of Hunger Games, which has made me leery of recommending it to younger tweens.

McMann provides some unique concepts for spells and magical capabilities. Each secondary character has their own affinity for a different creative outlet. One sings spells, while another’s strength is acting and a third person uses writing and story telling. These specializations provide readers with relatable characters, as most students have some sort of creativity outlet that they enjoy. Alex’s own strength is art, and the magic he creates with paper, pencil, and other mediums sounds really cool, especially his ability to paint himself invisible. It’s also the root of the threat towards Alex’s brother.

After finishing this book, I book talked it to a group of fifth and sixth graders, and they were intrigued by this concept of creativity being banned. I told them “Alex and Aaron live in a world where creativity is banned. No singing, no dancing, no drawing, no making up stories, nothing. If you’re caught doing any of these things, you could get kicked out of the city and sent to death, and your parents wouldn’t stop them.” They immediately started questioning what could or couldn’t get them in trouble, with one kid tapping out a beat with his fingers, another kid asking about humming, and a third wondering if sports were allowed. I came back and told another librarian that we might end up with a run on this title if they all followed through and checked it out. As a new author to the upper elementary and middle school scene, it might take a little bit of time for this to hit their radar, especially considering Wimpy Kid and Inheritance have just been published. Once kids catch on though, I’m sure this book will become popular.