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The Unnameables Hardcover – October 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 6–9—This unusual debut novel is a fantasy set in the modern day. Teenaged Medford Runyuin has never really felt accepted by the island community where he's been raised. Orphaned after his parents drowned, he's being raised by Boyce, a wood-carver, and is training to follow his trade. Even though they trade with the Mainland for necessities, the community is self-sufficient and disdainful of technology. Its residents only name or create useful things, and their surnames denote what they do, like Baker or Tailor. When their children reach age 14, they Transition to adulthood and the Council Elders assigns them a permanent job and last name. Everyone's life is guided by "The Book," a compendium of household and etiquette tips handed down for generations and followed religiously. Citizens can be banished to the Mainland for committing infractions like making Unnameables—frivolous items. Despite the consequences, Medford has been secretly carving and hiding away beautiful wooden objects for years. One day, a part-man, part-goat washes up on the shore near his cabin. The Goatman can call up the wind but cannot control his gift so he was sent to the island to learn to master it. Both know it's just a matter of time before their secrets are discovered. The setting and the dawning rebellion of the island's inhabitants against tradition and conformity are well done. This novel, with certain plot points reminiscent of The Giver, will not appeal to all fantasy readers, but those who try it will find it has a style and charm of its own.—Sharon Rawlins, New Jersey State Library, Trenton
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From Booklist

The people of the island Island are an insatiably strict lot. Everything must have a use, and their names must match that use: cows are called Greater Horned Milk Creatures, seabirds are nameless because they are useless, Prudence Carpenter gets renamed Prudence Learned when she becomes a teacher, and so on. Medford Runyuin has trouble fitting in, being that he was shipwrecked on the island as a baby and has no useful name, though he was taken in by the Carvers. In secret, he whittles beautiful carvings out of wood, an abomination in the eyes of usefulness that could get him exiled. Then, a strange goat-man creature arrives, befriends Medford, and in a flurry of chaos upsets the neat order of things. If the execution doesn’t quite match up to the highly imaginative premise of the story—Booraem’s renamed world is a little rough around the edges—readers will still come away knowing that artistry and beauty are by no means useless. Patient readers who like a little quirk in their fantasy will enjoy this stick-it-to-the-status-quo romp. Grades 6-9. --Ian Chipman
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 and up
  • Grade Level: 5 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 690L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books; 1 edition (October 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0152063684
  • ISBN-13: 978-0152063689
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,113,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Senora Gose VINE VOICE on August 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I received this book four days ago. I finished it last night, while feeding my fifth child, a three week old. That's just to show you how much I enjoyed it. I'm a busy homeschooling mother, and have my own business, but I just HAD to find out how this book completed itself.

I will be holding on to this one as required reading for my own children (all 6 and under right now.) The book immediately grabbed me with the Map in the front, and the interesting introduction. The first chapter bogged me down a bit, as there were so many characters introduced with several different Names (a very important theme in the book) that I wondered how much time I would be devoting to it. But Chapter 2 began, and WOW, did it take off!

I have never gasped aloud reading a book. I did with this one, SEVERAL times. I have never hurriedly turn a page, as the main character, Medford, was making a heavy-hearted decision, and I was SO anxious, I couldn't jump to the top of the next page fast enough.

The words used are often Old English, and you get the feel of the Classics like The Hobbit or any of the Lord of the Rings or Narnia style. I am SO thrilled to have come across this book. A classic is something you read again and again and can apply new lessons or a new perspective to (in my definition) and this book excellently fits the bill with its laugh-out-loud moments, shocking turns, saddening scenes, and uplifting hope. The descriptions allow you to be on Island, and Medford's words help you to understand an outsider, if by some miracle you've escaped ever feeling that way.

Thank you, Ellen Booraem, for sharing this story with my family! I can NOT wait until my 6 year old is old enough to enjoy and learn from The Unnameables.

Sra. Gose
Author of Spanish Fun Activity Calendar & Flip Flop Spanish: Ages 3-5: Level 1
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By N. Burt VINE VOICE on July 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I really enjoyed this book, though at the beginning I wasn't so sure. The characters grew on me, though some like Boyce are so cold it is hard to feel anything for them. The Goatman is terrific and really worth waiting for. The beginning of the story is difficult because of the strange use of capitals and being unable to fully place the the world . . . is is a made up fantasy land? Is it the past? These questions are answered in the course of the story, but it is a bit jarring in the beginning. That being said I found "The Unnameables" to be a very original and interesting book. Should a sequel appear I would definitely read it. The story is good for adults and teens.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Julee Rudolf VINE VOICE on July 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Names are important," Medford [Runyuin] said..."They tell us who we are and what we do and what everyone else does and where we all belong." Unfortunately for thirteen-year-old Medford, with his unusual name and Mainlander roots, living in Town is a bit like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Its inhabitants take on the surname of their trade, like Carpenter, Tailor and Weaver. There is no such occupation as a Runyuin. Not only are place names generic-sounding, for example, Main Street and Town Hall, so are those for animals, like Greater Horned Milk Creatures and Egg Fowl. Useless things, including certain birds, are left nameless. Conformity is key, and all of Town's citizens are expected to adhere to the rules (many familiar from the bible) put to paper years ago. When it is time for his transition, Medford, instead of being given the obvious surname of Carver, is instead expected to endure an extra year trial period, after which the prospective name change will be reconsidered. He is sent out to live alone in an isolated cabin. He does his best, carving many useful things, as expected, to pay back the cost of his home and land, but can't bring himself to destroy his beautiful, Useless carvings (required at Transition, after which he is considered to be an adult), in spite of knowing that he will likely be banished to the Mainland if he is caught with them. While he is struggling with the issue, an unexpected guest arrives, a smelly, odd-looking Goatman and his equally stinky dog. This strange creature with a taste for towels and linens and a tendency toward turbulence, helps Medford learn to question authority and defy convention, and, along with other allies, the two teach the townsfolk a thing or two about the Usefulness of the seemingly Useless.Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By K. A. Lewinski Bomgren on August 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Unnamables is about a community living on and island (called "Island"), who are obsessed with Names and Uses. Everyone is named for their use (profession), and if it isn't "useful," then it has no place on Island (this goes for people, too, who get banished if they don't stick to the rules of The Book). To me, it had a certain 17th century Puritan feel, especially with the "Book Talk" (Shakespearean English aka thees and thous), although as the story progresses you realize this is not the setting.

The first chapter was a bit slow, and I was worried I'd be stuck reading a boring book (I have a hard time not finishing books). I was greatly relieved when things picked right up in chapter two. I loved the fantasy aspect added in the beginning chapters. This book had wonderful themes and morals: About passion for art and creativity (and the suppression of art and creativity), The importance of history (and dangers of revisionist history), finding your place in the world / society and showing that growing up and accepting responsibility doesn't mean you can't have fun anymore.

The only reason this book didn't get a 5-star rating from me was because it was targeted for ages 9-12. I think this book might be too hard for average 9 and 10-year olds (if they are advanced readers they might do fine), I would say ages 11+ unless its a read-aloud book.
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