The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

Every year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their deaths.
Thirteen-year-old Alex tries his hardest to be stoic when his fate is announced as Unwanted, even while leaving behind his twin, Aaron, a Wanted. Upon arrival at the destination where he expected to be eliminated, however, Alex discovers a stunning secret—behind the mirage of the "death farm" there is instead a place called Artime.
In Artime, each child is taught to cultivate their creative abilities and learn how to use them magically, weaving spells through paintbrushes and musical instruments. Everything Alex has ever known changes before his eyes, and it's a wondrous transformation.
But it's a rare, unique occurence for twins to be separated between Wanted and Unwanted, and as Alex and Aaron's bond stretches across their separation, a threat arises for the survival of Artime that will pit brother against brother in an ultimate, magical battle.

I haven't read any middle grade work in a while. The last time was when I read Percy Jackson last year, and I LOVED that. I feel like for the most part I skipped over the middle grade/Independent reader section when I was that age--heading straight for YA. The only true MG that I've really read was HP (even though I consider that more YA) and Percy Jackson. Both series that I absolutely LOVE. When I read the description for this book, I knew I'd like it.
And I was right. THIS book is why I do occasionally go to MG. Great, unique plot, awesome characters that I felt like I befriended as I was reading, and great writing. The Unwanteds is definitely a quick and enjoyable read.
First off, I love what McMann did with the plot. It was unlike anything I've ever seen, the mixture of fantasy and dystopia like that, especially for a middle grade audience. The world building was fantastic throughout the entire novel. Basically, if you're creative at heart and pose any threat to Quill's society, you're Unwanted, and the Quillens believe that you are being sentenced to death. But, instead you are brought to Artime, a magical world where being creative is a good thing. I loved all the creativity that went into this novel, using paintbrushes and music and soliloquies to perform spells was really smart thinking, in my opinion. I loved the talking blackboards! And all the action towards the end was very well written for its intended target audience.
The characterization was good as well. This book is told from third omniscient, so you got to see a little bit into everyone's perspective. Normally, I'm not a big fan of this, but it totally worked for this book. The fact that the main hero and antagonist were twins put an interesting spin on things. And I love seeing Alex's struggle when it came to Aaron, his twin. It just about broke my heart how much Alex missed Aaron, when Aaron couldn't care less, and was essentially the one who made Alex an Unwanted in the first place. I loved Alex's friends--especially Lani. I suspect McMann was setting up some romance for them later in the series. And the adults and teachers played a huge role in the book. All of them--especially Mr. Tomorrow--were well done as well.

The Unwanteds is a middle grade cross-genre book unlike anything I have ever read. With a spot-on middle grade voice, such a unique plot, and fantastic world building, I am looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Quill. And I'm so recommending this to my 10yo cousin!