Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Weekly Book Review: Unwind

Click to find this book in our catalogue.
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Released: November 6, 2007
Genre: Young Adult


"In a society where unwanted teens are salvaged for their body parts, three runaways fight the system that would "unwind" them. Connor's parents want to be rid of him because he's a troublemaker. Risa has no parents and is being unwound to cut orphanage costs. Lev's unwinding has been planned since his birth, as part of his family's strict religion. Brought together by chance, and kept together by desperation, these three unlikely companions make a harrowing cross-country journey, knowing their lives hang in the balance. If they can survive until their eighteenth birthday, they can't be harmed -- but when every piece of them, from their hands to their hearts, are wanted by a world gone mad, eighteen seems far, far away."


Neal Shusterman’s novel was an emotional rollercoaster more winding than any I’ve ridden in quite a long time. Throughout its 335 pages, I alternated between hopeful and horrified, fascinated and repulsed, sometimes over the course of a single page. One feeling that never passed through my roiling brain was boredom. The novel sprints through each of its plot elements, sometimes to its own detriment, but more often the speed works in its favor by preserving and even emphasizing the tension of its leading characters’ dilemmas. 

Perhaps the greatest strength of the novel is its ability to make an unbelievable situation seem believable. The core conceit of the story is an America in which a terrible compromise, originally proposed as a morbid joke, has been reached between the pro-life and pro-choice sides of the abortion debate. This compromise is called unwinding. Until the age of 12, every American citizen has the right to life. Unwanted children are storked, left on another person’s doorstep to be adopted or discarded as that person sees fit. Discarded children are then inducted into the country’s extensive state home system, to be kept alive until the age of 12, when the imperfect, unadopted children will be unwound. Other children up for unwinding are the troubled and the tithed. Troubled children are sent away for unwinding by exasperated parents who no longer want to deal with the challenges of raising them. Tithed children are given up by their families in the name of religious servitude. 

Unwinding itself is the act of breaking a person down into each and every one of their individual parts: limbs, organs, bones, brain sections, blood. 99.4% of the parts (proponents of unwinding often round this up to 100% for better press) are then transplanted into people in need of a donor. It’s believed, at least by the act’s supporters, that because all useful parts of a child are used in this process, the child can be considered “alive” even after unwinding. Unsurprisingly, the unwinds themselves have their doubts. Through clever exposition and some creative use of point-of-view, Shusterman made me believe in a world that might accept this terrible act as normal, whether I wanted to or not.

All three subtypes of the unwind feature in the main cast: Carter the troubled, Risa the state home refugee, and Lev the tithed. Each of their stories begins differently, and though they converge, their varied upbringings result in similarly varied character arcs. Carter and Risa, who have always seen unwinding as a dreaded thing, adjust to the runaway life without significant change in their personalities. Instead, life on the run seems to strengthen their better qualities, namely Carter’s natural leadership abilities and Risa’s innate desire to help others. Lev, on the other hand, is completely dismantled as his passive acceptance of unwinding burns into a smoldering rage. Though these arcs diverge, I was invested in all of them. Often, when reading a book with multiple points-of-view, I pick my favorites and sigh my way through those that haven’t made that list. Not the case with Unwind. It was never disappointing to see Carter, Lev, or Risa’s name above a new chapter. If you were to ask me to rank the three in order of preference, I’m not sure I’d be able to.

Recommended for anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of YA in their speculative sci-fi as well as those who like to be pleasantly horrified.

You should also read: 

This one’s going to seem a slightly odd suggestion, but there are a surprising number of similarities between Unwind and The Golden Compass. Both feature resourceful kids on the run, and though I don’t want to give away too much of Pullman’s trilogy-starter, there is an act in the latter half of the book that’s strikingly similar to unwinding.

The Golden Compass

No comments:

Post a Comment