Unwind – Neal Shusterman
The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child "unwound," whereby all of the child's organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn't technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state, is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.
Review: This is a hard book to review because I have so many problems with it, but I love it so much. Also, I feel weird for loving it because it’s a severely messed-up story. Seriously, unwinding is yucky business.
People have been telling me for years that I need to read Unwind, but I’ve been avoiding it for two reasons:
Reason #1: I was worried that it would be another tropey YA dystopia. I’ve read more than enough of those.
Reason #2: That creepy human/fingerprint critter on the cover. It’s not creepy in an “I need to read this book immediately” way. It’s creepy in an “I don’t want that ugly bugger staring at me from the bedside table while I sleep” way.
Then, I heard people comparing this book to The Hunger Games. I was in the mood for something fast-paced and deadly, so I decided to give it a try. I was not disappointed. This book was exactly what I wanted. Don’t you love it when that happens?
I think the comparisons to The Hunger Games are valid, even though Unwind was published first. Both books are action-packed and feature teens who are rebelling against the government in order to save their lives. Both books also require the same type of suspension of disbelief. In The Hunger Games the government murders teens to keep the peace. In Unwind the government murders teens because that somehow satisfies both the pro-life and pro-choice people. All of this teen-murdering leads me to believe that our modern government is not killing nearly enough teens. Teen-murder seems to solve a lot of problems. Temporarily, at least.
Anyway, Unwind follows a group of teens who are trying to avoid being “unwound.” Their parents or the government are forcing them to give up their bodies. Every part of them will be donated to a person who needs it. No one is sure what happens to the teens’ consciousness when they are unwound. People don’t know if the teens die, or if they continue to live in a “divided state.”
This is a difficult book for me to review: I had a hard time buying the premise, but I couldn’t stop reading. It has been a long time since I got through a book this quickly. I needed to know what happened next because some parts of this novel are downright scary. I was worried for the characters. Every time I wasn’t reading this book, I wanted to be reading it. I was completely hooked once I got past my disbelief.
The story is told from multiple perspectives. My favorite perspective is Lev’s—he starts out wanting to be unwound as part of his religious duties, but he goes through a huge transformation over the course of the book. He’s the most well-developed and complex of the characters. I know that this book is part of a series, so I hope the other characters develop the same level of complexity as the series progresses.
Even though I love this book, there are two tiny things that distracted me. First, my edition has noticeable typos. These may have been fixed in newer editions. Second, the perspectives occasionally get slightly murky. The chapter headings suggest that this book is written in limited third-person point-of-view with alternating perspectives. Most of the book is written that way, but the third-person narrator occasionally breaks out of that limited perspective and becomes omniscient. It’s not confusing at all, and it builds suspense, so it’s technically not a problem, but it distracted me.
I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series. I think it’s brave for an author to take on the abortion debate in a fiction book. I’m interested to see what happens next.