McMann, Lisa. The Unwanteds.
30 August 2011, Aladdin
In the futuristic dystopian world of Quill, which is ruled by High Priest Justine, anyone who is artistically inclined is Purged at the age of twelve and sent to the Death Farm. Alex Stowe is one of these children, even though his twin brother, Aaron, is Wanted and will therefore go to the university and take his place in the Quillitary. When Alex gets to the Death Farm, however, he finds that it is really a magical land called Artime, run by Mr. Today. Mr. Today has hidden this world from Quill for a very long time, and encouraged the inhabitants to learn art, magic, and military skills in case of attack. Alex is glad to be saved from certain death, but he misses his twin. When he finds that Will, an Unwanted, is trying to discover a way back into Quill so he can kill Aaron, Alex contacts his brother to try to save him. This doesn't work the way he has planned, and Artime's safety is compromised, but Mr. Today's emergency plans are helpful.
Strengths: A student whose fifth grade teacher was reading this series (in lieu of The Hunger Games) to the class insisted that I buy this series. It has its charm and is well constructed. It is rather tame for a dystopia, so it was a good choice for a younger group. The world building is fairly good, characters are multifacted, and the plot moves along in an understandable way, but...
Weaknesses: This was missing something for me. Perhaps it was the concept of "children's fates must be decided at 12", which shows up in a lot of fantasy books, or the whole idea that the "artsy" world is good and the other world is bad. Maybe Justine reminded me of the Snow Queen in Narnia. I think that this series would be a very good one for third graders who have already read the Entire Harry Potter series, and maybe that's why I didn't care for it as much. I'm just too old.
McMann, Lisa. Island of Silence.
4 September 2012, Aladdin
Now that the gates are open to Artime, many of the Necessaries flock there, leaving the Wanteds without their labor force. Alex is being groomed to be the successor to Mr. Today, but Aaron has fallen from grace. He starts to collect a group of Wanteds who are hungry and want things to go back the way they were under Justine. They are unhappy that High Priest Haluki is engaged in peace talks-- they don't want peace, they want food! A boy and girl wash up on the shore, and Alex and his friends determine that they must be from one of the islands outside of Quill, and island that they have heard is probably friendly. However, when Lani, Meghan and Samheed travel there right before Artime is attacked by Aaron's forces, they are attacked by the inhabitants. Alex manages to save Meghan, but as is he coming back to Artime, all the magic drains away from the land. He is truly in charge now, and must start over to keep the Unwanteds from having to go back under the power of Quill.
Strengths: I liked that both sides resorted more to subterfuge to fight-- there was some action and adventure, and some battles, but I think that more battles are waged secretively, but that's not reflected much in books. Again, the world building is fairly convincing, and there is a student waiting for me to bring this in, so the series definitely has its fans.
Weaknesses: I find that I want some more back story to be convinced of some crucial plot elements. Why are Alex and Aaron so at odds? Why is Alex the chosen one? How did the founders of Quill decide to build their world, and why does no one remember their origins? Perhaps these questions will be answered in the next book...
Out today, book three, Island of Fire.