- The Unwanteds
In this dystopia geared for a younger audience than many, very young children get sorted into two groups: Wanted and Unwanted. The unwanted kids are doomed fairly early on, as even small mistakes or divergences (like artistic interest) tally up quickly against them. Aaron and Alex are unusual in that they are twins, but they are fairly certain going in that they will not end up on the same list. Aaron, indeed, ends up with the bad kids, and he boards a bus that’s ostensibly carrying all of the unwanteds to their deaths. Happily, the children are instead introduced to a hidden world where their creativity, individuality, and resistance to arbitrary rules is celebrated and carefully nurtured. Most kids are happy to never look back, but Aaron longs for his brother, and he worries about some of the other children left behind; he knows that the government of Quill cannot be allowed to keep the citizens in such fear that they would reject their own kids each year. It’s a lot for one small novel, and the glowing descriptions of Artime (the hidden artistic community) occasionally cross into schmaltzy territory, but the genuine tugs between family and individuality, safety and ethics are compelling places on which to ground this novel. Readers will likely be so relieved that the first chapters don’t end with the mass killing of the flawed (and therefore interesting) kids that they will forgive the stark black and white division between the increasingly grim Quill and the always nifty Artime. While this is certainly a departure for McMann, it may hook some new fans who, in a few years, will find her other books worth pursuing.