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 occurence 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.
Now, I love Lisa McMann. I’ve read every single books she’s published, and both of her heroines, Janie and Kendall, have made my list of the Top Ten Girls in YA. McMann is awesome at creating a world that feels real and implementing paranormal elements. Going into this book, I knew it would be different for three reasons: this book is written from many POVs, but mainly boys’ POVs; this book is intended for middle-grade kids (so not quite children’s, not quite YA); and it’s a combination dystopia/fantasy story. I’m prepared for all of these things, because McMann writes in a way that will make anyone seem normal and real.
However. This book starts out really rough. We don’t even know why the Unwanteds are unwanted until much later. Alex’s parents immediately forget about him after The Purge. We don’t get any sense of what Alex’s life was life before he was Purged. I realize the story is about Alex’s journey post-Purge, but it would have been nice to get a little window into his home life. We do get a little bit of that later, but it’s really jarring and unsettling watching families just shrug and walk away as their children are taken away to be killed.
Alex does journey, too. This is really a coming-of-age sort of tale and Alex has to fight his preconceived notions and prejudices throughout the first half of the book. Alex is different, and he chafes at the restrictions placed on him, even though he doesn’t understand the restrictions. His friends begin to learn magic, and one in particular, uses it against him as pranks. There’s typical teenage romantic angst, and while I rolled my eyes at a lot of their antics, I wasn’t taken out of the story. These teenagers act like young teenagers, and I like to roll my eyes at them to piss them off. Nothing makes a fourteen-year-old speechless with rage like rolling your eyes. Alex grows up too. He learns that family ties are not unbreakable, and he begins to develop better judgment of character.
There’s a war looming, and it comes fast and hard, and I skimmed most of it. Lisa McMann or not, I don’t like fantasy fight scenes. I skim for dialogue and that’s about it. You sort of know what will happen before the battle starts, but the book reminds you that the fighting is far from over.
I liked this book a lot. Like all McMann books, it’s a quick read and engrossing from the (almost) beginning. Alex is a sympathetic character, and instead of raging at him when he did stupid things, I felt sorry for him and related to him. Let it be known, though, that this book will draw a lot of Harry Potter parallels, which I don’t think is fair. Harry Potter is not the be-all, end-all of YA fantasy, and hey, at least the teachers don’t abuse the children like they do at Hogwarts! (Don’t come after me. I spent like fours hours refreshing the Pottermore site the other day. I love it, you love it, your mom loves it, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.)