The Unwanteds, Book 1 Book Poster Image

The Unwanteds, Book 1



Magical fantasy has peril, battles, positive messages.
Popular with kids

What parents need to know

Educational value

This story is exciting enough to grab reluctant readers and encourage them to plunge into the world of fantasy stories. Also, characters define words that may be unfamiliar and explore strategies for using creative talents.

Positive messages

The very obvious message is that creativity is as essential to a thriving society as are the "rational" pursuits. In the magical world of Artime, where the good people live and most of the story occurs, creativity is valued and openness and freedom are encouraged -- even at the expense of safety and easy victory.

Positive role models

Marcus Today, the magician-leader of Artime, has created a world where each individual is valued and encouraged to grow. The most impressive thing about him is that he never tries to control or limit anyone, even when their actions might be detrimental to the world he has built. He does have guidlelines, but he also encourages openness and exploration, and he forgives when mistakes are made. All of the creative kids learn important lessons, develop good hearts, and mature under his care.


This story kicks off with a pretty gruesome threat: Kids are sent to a death farm, thinking they will be exterminated in a lake of boiling oil. Readers learn about the terror the 13-year-old victims feel, even though the threat is never carried out. Later kids develop magical weapons based on their specific creative talents, and in the end a huge battle ensues between the two societies. It's complete with all sorts of injuries, children killing fathers and vice versa, as well as a variety of deaths.


A little hand-holding and a stolen kiss between two of the hero 13-year-olds, and their awakening romance, is about the extent of the sexual activity in this story.


Harsh tones, practical jokes, bantering, a bit of name calling ... but inappropriate language is not a problem here.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

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. 

Families can talk 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?

Book details

Author:Lisa McMann
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:August 30, 2011
Number of pages:400

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Parent Written bysuzimiller January 8, 2013


Absolutely fantastic book!! My 8 year old son and I read it together and he was squirming the entire time for more. We devote 30 minutes to reading every night and he wanted to forego all else before bedtime so we could read for 90 minutes instead. Wonderfully written and very creative. It IS a mixture of Hunger Games (without the child-on-child violence) and Harry Potter, but also completely original. We highly recommend this book. We've read everything in this age category and this was his favorite (and mine too!) of all.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Kid, 12 years old November 21, 2011

An interesting blend of Margaret Peterson Haddix and J.K. Rowling

The Unwanteds is an enjoyable dystopian fantasy. The story starts out with a sinister threat: the "unwanteds" (or creative kids, in a society that fears creativity and values strength and smarts) are going to get taken to the "death farm" and killed. However, sensitive readers should know that this is quickly proven to NOT be the case. My biggest problem with the book is the plot-point that the creative kids are more "special" than the non-creative ones. The characters are personality mirrors of many from the Harry Potter series, and, unlike Harry and his friends, do not change very much. The incorporated magic that creative kids can perform is more original and fun to read about. Imbedded in the story, and becoming clearer as the story continues is the overused point that one sibling is "good", and the other is "bad." There is a small amount of violence beyond the opening until you approach the end of the story where there is a giant battle between the "good" city and the "bad" city, in which secrets are revealed and characters are injured or even killed.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Kid, 11 years old January 4, 2014

The U-N-W-A-N-T-E-D-S of the Unwanteds.

Un-calm. Very acton and violence packed. Not bad at all. One of the best! Was a great book with great role models. A book with great messages. Not a book to read before bed. kind of scary. Too good to just a book. this should be a movie! Exciting! Darn gooood book! So, please read it!
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence