Monday, May 30, 2016

Review: The Unwind Dystology Series Wrap-Up

The Unwind Dystology - Neal Shusterman

After the Second Civil War, the Bill of Life states that human life may not be touched from the moment of conception until a child reaches the age of thirteen. However, a loophole allows parents to retroactively get rid of a teenager through a process called “unwinding.” Three teens defy the system and run away from their unwinding: Connor, a rebel whose parents have ordered his unwinding; Risa, a ward of the state who is to be unwound due to cost-cutting; and Lev, his parents’ tenth child whose unwinding has been planned since birth as a religious tithing. As their paths intersect and lives hang in the balance, Connor, Risa, and Lev must work together to survive—and they may change the fate of America in the process.

I recently finished this series and thought I’d put all of my opinions in one place. You can see my reviews of the individual books here: Unwind, UnStrung, UnWholly, UnSouled, UnDivided, UnBound. This wrap-up review is as spoiler-free as I can make it.

The Unwind Dystology Wrap-Up

The Good

Books 1 and 4: The series starts and ends strongly. A lot of series start out well and then fizzle at the end. That isn’t the case with these books. The last book has just as much danger and intensity as the first book. Not all of the characters get a happily ever after.

Thought-provoking: The series asks a lot of questions but leaves the answers up to the reader. The books examine issues surrounding abortion, terrorism, failing schools, the business of medicine, the rights of children, and the ethics of certain scientific advancements.

It keeps getting creepier: Let’s just say that a lot of messed-up stuff can be done with human body parts.

Unpredictable and fast-paced: These books are rarely slow. The reader gets the sense that anything can happen and no character is safe.

Lev: If you’ve spent a lot of time on this blog, you’ll know that I like books about characters who struggle with their religious beliefs. Lev is one of those characters. He undergoes a massive transformation over the course of the series. It’s interesting to see him lose his sense of purpose, flounder, and then find a new purpose. He’s a relatable character because a lot of real people go through a less-extreme version of feeling lost in life.

Cam and the Rewinds: Cam is my favorite character in the series. He’s kinda creepy, kinda snarky, kinda morally gray. His existence raises a lot of interesting ethical questions. It was satisfying for me to watch him take control of his life and go from a piece of property to a leader. I desperately want a spin-off novel about Cam and the Rewinds.

Connor: People on Goodreads seem to be obsessed with him. I’m not a rabid Connor fan, but he does have some hilarious dialogue and is an easy character to root for.

Intensely readable: There are some books that you want to read and some that you have to force yourself to read. This series definitely fell into the “want to read” category for me. I spent a lot of time thinking about these books and neglected life in order to marathon them.

The Not-So-Good

“Middle book syndrome” and bridge books: The books in the middle of the series aren’t quite as good as the first and last books. The middle ones are slightly less intense.

Unwinding is tough to swallow: I had a very hard time buying unwinding in the first book. In the Unwind universe, unwinding is seen as a solution to the abortion debate. This didn’t make sense to me. How does depriving a teenager of his/her body satisfy a pro-life or pro-choice person? Luckily, the Unwind world becomes more developed as the series progresses. Unwinding becomes easier to believe.

UnStrung: This #1.5 novelette disappointed me. The synopsis makes it sound like it will explain how a thirteen-year-old got involved with a terrorist organization. It doesn’t explain that. Actually, it doesn’t explain anything. It mostly just got me irritated at the illogical behavior of some of the characters.

The covers and lack of editing: After I posted my reviews, I discovered that I’m not the only one who thinks that the original covers are hideous. The new covers (the ones at the top of the post) aren't wonderful, but I like them more than the originals. Also, my editions of the books (all hardcover) aren’t published very well. I found many typos. The binding of the books made a lot of crackly noises while I was reading. I was worried that the pages would fall out.

Head-hopping and murky perspectives: These books are written in third-person limited perspective with alternating points-of-view. The author occasionally breaks out of the limited perspective in order to build suspense. This isn’t confusing, but it did distract me.

Risa: Sorry Risa lovers, I don’t like her. She barely does anything in the series. She serves as motivation for Connor and Cam, and that’s about it. I don’t know how she can motivate them because I honestly don’t know what they see in her. To me, she’s a generic YA love interest character.

The thing that happens to Connor on the plane in book #4: In book #4, Connor is trapped in a room on a plane with a bunch of sleeping kids. He’s awake because he pulled out his IV. Instead of trying to escape from the room, he just sits there until he’s re-captured. Why didn’t he yank the IVs out of the other kids? They could have helped him escape, or he could have created enough chaos to maybe get away. He still would have been trapped on a plane, but he would have had more options (plane hijacking?) to potentially save himself. I think the author really wanted a certain thing to happen, but I think Connor would have fought harder to avoid that thing.

The abortion stuff: Okay, I promised I’d talk about this, so here we go.

A lot of readers seem to love or hate book #1 in the series because it discusses abortion. I’ve heard that book #1 is often sold in Christian bookstores because readers believe that it has a pro-life message. I can totally see a pro-life slant in Unwind, but I honestly don’t care about the message or whether I agree with it. My issue is that the message isn’t argued logically. The book sets up a strawman argument (unwinding = abortion) that completely ignores the majority of the issues surrounding abortion. The book then relies on emotional manipulation to back up its pro-life stance. The reader is made to feel bad for these poor teenagers who are running from their evil parents and retroactive abortions.

I actually like books that confront controversial topics. I want those topics to be discussed logically, though. I have no idea if the author intended for Unwind to be pro-life or if people just read it that way.

It was pretty easy for me to roll my eyes at the illogical/manipulative bits and enjoy the story. The next books in the series take the focus off abortion and examine other topics that are less hot-button but just as interesting. I only found the abortion stuff mildly irritating.

The Verdict

Overall, I liked this series a lot. It asks interesting questions and has all of the creepiness, action, death, and destruction that I want in a dystopia. For what it’s worth, I rated all of the books between 3 and 5 stars on Goodreads. Supposedly Unwind is becoming a movie, so I’m interested to see how the movie compares to the book.   


  1. I have not read this series yet. I have had them on mmy list for a long time with good intentions but really the covers do not pull me in. you are right the new ones are better but still not what they could be. I will need to dig in eventually though.

  2. Interesting that it's seen as pro-life. I took it entirely the opposite--that Shusterman was making a snide comment about people who trumpet pro-life policies, but who don't actually do anything to care for children born in less-than-idea circumstances. Like, the logical extreme is to ban abortion but allow the killing of "unruly" teenagers. I thought he was calling out the hypocrisy of pro lifers who bomb abortion clinics and slash welfare and favor harsh "first strike" and "no tolerance" laws.

  3. I'm so glad you reviewed the series as a whole - I was looking forward to this!

    I've only just read the first book in the series, and I totally see the thought provoking elements - I love a book that gets in to mind like that.

    I think I would like to continue with the Unwind series, although the middle book syndrome puts me off a little... That's typically why I don't finish a lot of series. Hmmm..

    Thanks for sharing!!

    Reading With Jade

  4. Your discussion of the abortion issue really intrigues me. I agree with you that the solution that everyone eventually "agreed on" made no sense, but I actually think that was the point. It seemed to me that Shusterman was trying to show how people fought so fervently to be "right" that they ended up forgetting what they were actually fighting for. The compromise was ridiculous - I believe in the first book, Connor (I think it was him) even points this out. The fact is that people got to the point where winning the argument was more important than what they were fighting for - so they came to a conclusion that actually made no sense but where everyone could feel like, from their perspective, they'd "won." In the end, winning and being right was more important to them than the actual issue of life or choice - even though both sides could spin it so that it could seem like their viewpoint was being upheld. I actually think this happens sometimes in real life, but obviously not to this extreme - people get so caught up in the argument itself that I think they sometimes forget what they're actually fighting for!

    One of the things I loved about this series was that, again in my opinion, it talked about the issue of life without giving clear-cut answers. It presented it as a complex issue but didn't pretend to say it had the answers. I could see threads of a pro-life message (ultimately, LIFE is treasured in these books - especially that of the teens who were being thrown away), but there are also threads of pro-choice messages - the storking issue that came from the unwanted children is definitely a real problem!

    I loved reading your thoughts about these books - this series is fodder for LOTS of discussion!! I could talk about it all day!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction