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Book Review

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “Unwanteds” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Every year the land of Quill divides its 13-year-olds into three categories: Wanted, Necessary and Unwanted. This year, identical twins Aaron and Alex find themselves in different groups. Aaron is Wanted and destined for University, which will eventually let him become a leader in their land. Alex is Unwanted, and the Purge of the Unwanteds dooms him to death in the Lake of Boiling Oil. Although the brothers were not close, they each feel a surprising pull as they are separated by the Purge.

As Alex leaves his homeland with the other Unwanteds, he yearns for his twin and wishes Aaron cared about him. When they reach the Lake and the Eliminators leave after turning them over to Mr. Today, the Unwanteds are shocked to see the Lake of Boiling Oil vanish and the grim landscape changes. The Unwanteds discover what awaits them isn’t death but a magical land called Artimé where their creativity, previously considered a weakness, is celebrated and encouraged.

Alex eagerly learns all there is to know about painting and art, while his fellow Unwanteds study acting, music and other art forms. He soon discovers that his talents, which were blights in Quill, are used to perform magic spells in Artimé. Their leader, Mr. Today, warns them of the great danger should the citizens of Quill discover their existence. Not only would the Quillians insist on the death of every resident of Artimé, the city itself would cease to exist.

Meanwhile, Aaron studies at Quill University and sets his sights on becoming the land’s greatest ruler, the high priest. He and his family do not mention Alex’s name and seem to have forgotten he ever existed. Normal human emotion is a weakness, and any mention of the Unwanteds results in punishment.

When Quill’s leaders visit Mr. Today to inspect his work as the executioner of the Unwanteds, Mr. Today senses their suspicion and reveals to the Unwanteds that they must study to protect themselves from an eventual invasion by Quill’s army. The magical creatures of Artimé’s forest agree to fight alongside Artimé, and the Unwanteds follow Mr. Today’s leadership and prepare more magic spells to use in battle.

Alex is concerned for the fate of his twin and seeks a way to reach Aaron and bring him to Artimé so he won’t have to fight against him. Alex’s friends Lani and Samheed are eager to fight the citizens of Quill, because Quill disowned them and sent them to their deaths. Lani and Samheed particularly blame their fathers, part of Quill’s governors, who enforced the Purge. They want revenge against them.

Alex attempts to bring Aaron to Artimé through a magical door, but Aaron thinks it’s all a dream because he doesn’t understand magic. In an effort to impress the high priest and solve his nagging suspicions about what he thought was a dream, Aaron suggests Quill harvest some of the oil from the Lake of Boiling Oil and use it to fuel their vehicles, which are in continual need of fuel and repairs. Because Quill arrives without any warning, Mr. Today has no time to hide the magical land that exists over the Lake, and Artimé is visible to the high priest, Aaron, and the governors. The high priest orders an immediate invasion and destruction of Artimé.

When Aaron reveals that he had dreamed of Alex’s visit, the high priest banishes Aaron from government because he didn’t reveal his suspicions about Alex. Aaron seeks revenge against his twin for ruining his future.

In the ensuing battle, Samheed confronts his father for sentencing him to death in the Purge. When his father moves to attack Samheed, his friend avenges him by killing Samheed’s father. Lani confronts her father for sending her away in the Purge and wounds him, only to discover that he is a magical creature, who has been helping Artimé all along. He actually sent her there to protect her. Aaron wounds Alex by using Alex’s magic as a weapon again him.

After the battle, the two lands consent to live in tenuous peace. Some families are reunited, while some Unwanteds shun those who gave them over to the Purge without a second thought. Mr. Today has Alex decide Aaron’s punishment for wounding him and attacking Artimé. Alex allows Aaron to return to Quill, but still hopes that Aaron will one day leave Quill and be part of Artimé.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

The inhabitants of Artimé use magic. The ruler of Quill is referred to as high priest, but there is no religious connotation with their use of this title.

Authority Roles

The parents in this book banish their children to certain death, which causes the children to feel apathetic or act derisively toward them. Aaron and Alex’s parents valued Aaron because he was Wanted, but easily yielded Alex to the Purge without a second thought.

Two characters seek physical revenge against their parents when the battle breaks out. One learns that her father was actually trying to protect her by sending her to Artimé.

The high priest and governors are self-serving and foolish. The high priest only worries about whether her needs are being met and doesn’t notice that the Necessaries are starving. The governors blindly follow the high priest’s orders without thought for human life. Mr. Today is respected because he wants what is best for those under his rule. He works to see the skills of each Unwanted and helps students develop their talents.


There is one use of the euphemism gosh.

Each year, the people of Quill expect the Unwanteds to be led away to their execution. The battle scenes are not excessively graphic. When the magic clip strikes Alex, he falls, as if dead, but there is no blood or other injury described. When Lani’s father is injured, he disappears. When Samheed’s father is attacked, it just says he is killed.


Alex kisses Lani on the cheek to show her he cares about her feelings when she’s talking about being betrayed by her dad. Alex talks about Lani being pretty and is attracted to her.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

10 to 14


Lisa McMann






Record Label





On Video

Year Published



Mark Twain Readers Award, 2013; Nutmeg Book Award, 2015


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