A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this dystopian novel begins with a rather disturbing scene: frightened teens are sent to a death farm, thinking they will be exterminated in a lake of boiling oil. What follows is a fast-moving fantasy for kids, especially the more reluctant readers, who are not quite ready for Harry Potter, but are looking for an adventure -- and a little magic. There is a very obvious good-vs.-evil storyline and readers get the message that creativity is essential to a thriving society.
What's the story?
Quill is a gray, oppressive world where -- on one day each year -- 13-year-olds are separated into three castes: Wanted, Necessaries, and Unwanted. Wanteds go to the Academy, Necessaries get to work, and the Unwanteds, mostly creative kids, are sent to the Death Farm to be thrown into a lake of boiling oil. Told from the point of view of one boy, Alex, marked Unwanted because he draws pictures in the mud, the story really begins when the Unwanteds arrive at the Death Farm and instead discover a place called Artime, which is very different from their terrible expectations. There, they meet Marcus Today, the magician-leader of Artime, who has created a world where each individual is valued and encouraged to grow. But it's not long before Alex and his fellow Unwanteds will have to use their creativity in a violent battle between the two societies.
Is it any good?
The beginning chapter is a bit shocking, though most kids, especially those who love touching the edges of terror, will find themselves pulled into the story immediately. The rest is filled with fast-paced action and magic, and kids who were labeled as "Unwanted" are empowered through their own talents. The writing is not complicated, which makes the story approachable for reluctant readers. More mature readers may wish the characters, societies, and plot points were a bit more developed. Overall, this is an entertaining read: the characters are likeable, the good guys win, and the message is a positive one.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about dystopian novels and fantasy books. What makes these books so intriguing? Do dark fantasy worlds help us talk about fears and terrors we might have?
This book grew out of the author's concern that the art and music classes were being cut from her children's school. She said that seemed like a punishment for the creative kids. Have you seen this happen at your school? Should schools offer more art and music, or stick to more practical subjects?
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