Review: The Unwanteds

book reviews

The Unwanteds
The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I watched the final scene of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows this month, a small piece of me died. Perhaps a larger piece than I’d care to admit. It was bad enough when I finished the print series, but, then, I had the movies to fall back on. The story wasn’t over, the most exciting parts were still waiting to be told.

I sometimes get funny reactions to my love of the Harry Potter series. Perhaps it’s because I’m a grown man, and, what’s worse, a self-proclaimed, vehement disliker of fantasy, or maybe it’s that the embracing of a pop culture icon is somewhat out of character for me- I don’t know. I don’t really care. Harry Potter was the first piece of escapist fiction I ever read. Prior to those books, I didn’t know what it was like to be transported into a story. To be honest, it’s the only thing that’s done it for me since. When I’m sick of the world, sick of work, sick of people, I can always open up Sorcerer’s Stone and experience that all over again.

Well. I used to be able to.

That little something that switched off at the end of that movie? Yeah, I think it may be broken for good. My mind now knows that the story is over. Any more time spent in Hogwarts is just stolen form the past. I am not in possession of a time turner; I know of no incantation to change a single thing. The story has been told.

Fastforward two weeks or so. It’s a Tuesday in the middle of summer. I’ve booked Lisa McMann to participate in round table discussions with the teens at three of the libraries in my system. I go to each event, carting around the books for sale. At three different times that day, I heard Lisa talk about this book. I heard, over and over again, how passionate she was about it. How excited she was. I started getting curious. Very, very curious.

On my sad little joke of a lunch break that day, I started in on the book . Immediately, I was enthralled by the story. This was a dystopian tale, no doubt about that, but it was written for younger audiences- like the first Harry Potter books. It had that same feel, but the world was most definitely its own. When I had to stop reading, I wasn’t happy. I felt the pull.

After I got home, I spent some more time with it. I read and reread. I flipped back and forth. I spent hours just enjoying myself. The story follows Alex, a boy with artistic inclinations who is deemed “Unwanted” by society. Unwanteds are rounded up annually and killed. Much to Alex’s surprise, on the day he is to be thrown into the boiling lake, he (and everyone else) is saved by a mysterious, distinctly magical man who opposes everything their little society stands for. He creates a magical place for all of the Unwanteds to live and flourish.

There are several things that make this book awesome. The most significant, I think, is its origin. This story was a group endeavor. When her son came home from school one day and reported that, due to budget cuts, art classes were on the chopping block, Lisa was (justifiably) appalled. This story came out of that conversation with her son. That, in my opinion, is fantastic. It adds a significant layer of depth. That’s not to say, though, that it’s in any way preachy. It’s subtle, but it’s there. It’s subversive. And I like it.

So if you find yourself disappointed in the end of Harry Potter and are looking for something to take the edge off (or to inspire an all new bout of mania), The Unwanteds would not be a bad way to go. In fact, it would be a very good way to go. If nothing else, you’ll never look at a paperclip the same way again.

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