Unlike some of my colleagues, I am not a regular reader of fiction for kids. I'd probably read more, but I can't seem to get the rest of my reading done. But being that we had so many great middle grade and young adult authors, I certainly could not exclude them all.
Fortunately I have such great readers at Boswell that I can usually find another Boswellian to help me tout a title. Such is the case for James Dashner, whose The Death Cure is third book in the bestselling Maze Runner series; Jason already read it and liked it. But will I get through three volumes of a series before October 25? The odds aren't great. So for now, I've been using Jason's quote to talk up our event at the Greenfield Public Library on October 25, at 6:30 pm.
The Death Cure, by James Dasher, Delacorte, October 2011 I was hesitant to start The Death Cure, what more could WICKED put Thomas through? What horrible, what torturous, what painful journey would Thomas have to complete? Would it be enough? In the clutches of WICKED and infected with the Flare, the outlook does not look promising. James Dashner does not disappoint in this bleak and exhilarating finale--I can't wait to see what he comes up with next. Jason, Boswell Book Company
So what would I try? I had several criteria:
1. It needed to be the first book in a series or a stand-alone.
2. There needed to be a copy floating around, either an advance, or the book had to be out.
3. It had to be pretty good, but how do I judge.
4. Not too scary. I have a weak disposition for that sort of thing.
Fortunately I had Pam to vet them for me. She gave a thumbs up on The Unwanteds. Lisa McMann is going to be at the West Allis Public Library, 7421 West National Avenue, on Thursday, September 22, 4 pm.
The Unwanteds, by Lisa McMann, Aladdin, September 2011 Thirteen year-olds in the bleak dystopian world of Quill are separated into three catagories: the Wanteds who attend University; the Necessaries who do the work in this world; and the Unwanteds, creative types, who are destined for the Death Farm to be purged and forgotten. Identical twins Alex and Aaron are separated and Alex discovers that behind the facade of the Death Farm exists the secret magical world of Artimé. There, he and his friends are allowed to let their imaginations run free and also learn to use their creativity as a weapon. --Pam, Boswell Book Company
It was only after I finished The Unwanteds that I realized I left the accent off Artimé. My apologies. The accent is appropriate as this alternate world to the thuddingly gray and regimented Quill is colorful and stylish. The kids sent to the Death Farm are brought to a surprisingly large complex--a small footprinted building that nonethless has hundreds of nicely proportions rooms. Those dorm rooms are bigger than the houses in Quill. And how is that done?
Like much else in the story, with imagination. Did I mention that one of the mentors is an alligator-octopus? Plus there are all the warrior statues, such as Simber, the winged lion pictured on the jacket. This is all the work of Marcus Today, the Death Farm mage who turns out to be the benevolent leader of Artimé. The new arrivals are sent to school, eventually to specialize in one of three areas--music, visual arts, theater, or creative writing. Alex is an artist, his childhood friend Meghan is a musician (though she also was banished for dancing), the mysterious Lani, daughter of a governor, is a writer, and the sometimes beligerent Samheed, son of a Quillitary officer (that's Quill-military, for those who can't put these things together), is a thespian.
Believe it or not, these talents are to be nurtured because they are going to be the special weapons that will fight back against Quill. The kids learn to incorporate magic into them, finding ways to fight with clay, with soliloquies, and with piccolos. This defensive preparedness (under no circumstances will Artimé attack first) is necessary because someday, High Priest Justine will discover Artimé and declares war on them. Marcus can foresee it. Marcus could actually reduce the odds of battle by more strictly controlling his subjects. He's sure, for example, that Alex is going to try to somehow contact his twin Aaron, left behind in Quill, once he can use magic to his liking. And there's something suspicious going on with Samheed and his older friend Will Blair, both children of important Quill-ites who were nonetheless banished. But once you start placing limitations on folks because of suspicion, you start on the slippery slope of the dictatorship of Quill.
McMann has incorporated several of the trends in kids fiction and used them in a new way, inspired by the dramatic decrease in funding for the arts in kids schools. Like Quill, we seem to be focusing on a few core subjects (though Quill, at the extreme, did not even teach writing and focused on strength and core rote intelligence) at the expense of creativity. Like many books, most notably the Harry Potter series, much of the story takes place at school. It's a way for kids to interact with kids who are both like them and unlike them, ones they get along with, and other ones they don't.
Kirkus recently noted thatThe Unwanteds was part Harry Potter, part The Hunger Games, the current driver of the young adult category. You just have to look at our bestseller lists, where Suzanne Collins held three of our top five children's titles in weeks past. I think the comparison is due to Collins leading the charge in the dystopian arena.
So without giving too much else away, Lisa McMann's The Unwanteds is a dystopian world story with a school-and-library-and-bookstore-friendly message (not surprising, as I learned that McMann worked in a couple of bookstores before her novels caught on). I think this is a stand-alone (correct me if I'm wrong) so you won't have to wait to get the satisfaction of a wrapped-up story. McMann notes on her blog that the book is exciting enough for readers of her other more mature works, but tame enough to appeal to be appropriate for younger readers. There are a couple of deaths, but not in that gruesome teen way, and not involving our hero or his friends. Oh, and I checked with McMann, and it is indeed a series. Then I checked with Jason, who told me that the first volumes of series do often work by themselves too. The second volumes? Not as often.
While McMann is touring for the new book, she'll certainly take questions about her bestselling young adult books, the Wake Trilogy (Wake, Fade, and Gone) and the stand-alone, Cryer's Cross too. I guess if it's a spoiler, she might have to answer after the session, while she is signing books. But by all means, bring your copies of these books to get signed!
So now it's time to meet Lisa McMann! We're hosting her at a few schools during the day. Want to work with us in the future? Contact Amie for details. Meanwhile, here's a list of McMann's upcoming events, being held or with some of my favorite bookstores!
And of course our event, which is Thursday, September 22, 4 pm West Allis Public Library
7421 West National Ave., West Allis, WI
Hope I got all these dates and addresses correct. Don't forget to double check with the store or library involved. One day I will write a blog post on twin lit, and I will include The Unwanteds on my list. However, I don't think that blog piece will be written tomorrow, alas!
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