Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

As I read the first quarter of this book I groaned inwardly.  It started out sounding rather cheesy.  Ms McMann made some mistakes that I believe are common with inexperienced writers. The book starts with a boy, Alex, who is about to be "eliminated."  In the society all children are watched from birth.  As they approach age 13 they are categorized as Necessary, Wanted or Unwanted.  Those that are unwanted are taken to a lake of boiling oil and thrown in. In the book the families of the "Unwanteds" hand their children over to death without much fuss. The children who are unwanteds walk to their death without protest. So here is problem #1. For the rest of the book the characters act like pretty normal, rational human beings.  The giving over of the children to death is so contrary to normal behavior it defies belief. In other words, I did not think their was enough support in the story that I would believe that parents and children would act that way. The author needed to convince me more that this would happen in that world. 
As the children walk to their supposed death, and the gate of the city is closed behind them, they are suddenly magically transported in to a world more wonderful than they ever knew exited. The children see bright colors and experience music and art for the first time. So here is problem #2.  The author records their response to their miraculous rescue as a group.  Except for one dissenter child, all the children act in tandem.  They gasp as a group, they look around wide eyed as a group. The author even suggests that they are all thinking the same thing at the same time.  So that is a tidy way to relate that part of the story, but in real life people do not act in tandem. They have similar feelings and reactions, but if someone tells us they are feeling the and doing the exact same thing at the same time, we do not believe them. It would have worked better if the reader would have seen Alex's thoughts, and seen through Alex's eyes what one or two of the other children were doing.  Then the reader would naturally extrapolate that the group as a whole were having similar feelings.  Does that make sense?  

We, as human beings have a limited ability to take in detail.  We don't  perceive everything with which we come in contact.  When we see a tree, we don't look at every leaf on every branch.  We see a few leaves on one branch, and then we notice that there are more, so we assume that the other leaves and branches are like the one we looked at more closely.  The part suggests the whole. The opening scenes of the book would have worked better if McMann would have given us the part in more detail, and then just suggested the whole.

OK, that was long winded.  The rest of the book got better, and I actually enjoyed the story.  The magic system was based on art.  The children learn fighting spells that are associated with painting, singing, dancing and acting, which I thought was kind of fun. The interpersonal relationships were quite complicated. How does one feel toward your family if they gave you up to be killed without regret? Reader beware that in the final battle some of the children face their own parents and siblings, and the family members try to kill each other. So if that bothers you you might want to skip this one. (390 p.)

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