Lisa McMann’s first foray into middle grade books has many features that will appeal to younger readers. Alex and his Unwanted friends are well-developed and likable. I enjoyed that they were flawed and all of their choices had consequences. McMann strikes the right balance in portraying complicated family relationships, particularly with twins.
The highlight of THE UNWANTEDS is the way that the arts are used as weapons, such as the imaginative “slash singing, slam poetry, and fire steps”. My favorite parts of the novel involved the students learning about the arts, such as discovering music or creating fire-breathing origami dragons. At 400 pages, it is not a short novel and I wish there had been more scenes with the students in their classes and developing their powers. I was also concerned that there seemed to be a message that creativity exists only in the arts, while the children who liked math and economics were not seen as creative. As an adult reader, I realized that the reason Aaron was a successful Wanted was because he was creative, but this point may not be clear to middle grade readers.
Kirkus called it “The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter,” which I believe does a disservice to THE UNWANTEDS. Readers who pick up this novel expecting it to be The Hunger Games will feel manipulated by the lack of similarity between the two. Likewise, readers who want this to be a Harry Potter novel will be disappointed when it doesn’t measure up. THE UNWANTEDS is an enjoyable introduction to dystopian novels on its own and when I recommend it, I won’t mention either of those other titles.