Unwind- Neal Shusterman

Unwind cover

After the Heartland War, the US’s second civil war fought over reproductive rights, an uneasy compromise is struck: no life may be intentionally ended from conception until the age of 13.  Between the ages of 13 and 18, though, a child may be “unwound” at the discretion of his/her parents/guardians.  Unwinds, as these children are called, are dissembled with all their organs being transplanted to different donors.  Unwind is the story of three runaway unwinds: Connor, your typical angry and out-of-control teen, Risa, a ward of the state who isn’t talented enough to support to adulthood, and Lev, whose religious parents tithe him.

I listened to Unwind on audiobook, read by Luke Daniels.  At first, I wasn’t too pleased with the reading of the book.  Daniels has a bit of a forceful voice and it was starkly in contrast to my last audiobook (Matched which was read by the soft-spoken Kate Simses).  However, as the book went on, I came to be more accepting.  It was an incredibly harsh reality that these kids lived in and the strength and harshness of Daniels’s voice was absolutely appropriate.  It just took a little getting used to.  My only major complaint with the voice acting was some of the minority characters’ voices were a bit stereotypical.  I’m not really sure that there is a good alternative to this when a character is described as speaking with a particular accent, but it irritated me a bit.

This may be one of my favorite dystopias.  I loved the characters, I loved the world, I loved the big issues.  All of the characters were really well-developed and were written in such a way that you knew/understood them.  Connor, especially, grows up so much over the course of the book and becomes a strangely loveable character.  He is the sort of kid who is always getting in fights, but is so noble and has such integrity, that you end up respecting him quite a bit.  It was great, too, to see Risa discovering that she had much more potential than she was ever pegged with while living as a ward of the state.  Lev makes many disastrous mistakes, yet always seems to make the right decision in the end.  I couldn’t hate him, even when he was being reckless and destructive.

The point of view changes multiple times and you get to see in the heads of everyone from Connor, Risa, and Lev to a mob of unwinds to a random doctor, etc.  That was actually a highlight of the story.  I got a very complete picture of how unwinding had affected society because of the variety of perspectives.

Perhaps what I loved most about this book, though, was how the big issues were discussed.  Unwinding is a response to a war over abortion and it turns out that there are NO WINNERS in this war.  Unwanted children know that they are unwanted and unloved and feel unworthy.  In one example in this story, an unwanted baby left on a doorstep (a practice called storking) is bounced from house to house to house until it finally dies from lack of care.  On the other hand, though, the ending of a life is just as tragic as an unwanted life.  Many of these unwinds are on the path to self-destruction anyways, but one lesson we learn in this story is that we don’t know the potential of a person and we will never know if that life is ended prematurely.  There is no winner– kids lose out, parents lose out, society loses out.  There is no good solution.  Abortion, unwinding, unwanted children– it is only a matter of the lesser of evils, not a matter of a right way.

Definitely add this to your to-be-read list if you are a fan of dystopia.  It is everything great about dystopias– great characters, an interesting world, and a frank discussion of a very divisive issue.

Thanks for the Recommendation:
The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say Shhh listed this as one of her favorite dystopians and that is why I picked it up.  Her review can be found here.

12 thoughts on “Unwind- Neal Shusterman

  1. This one sounds really interesting!! I’ve never heard of it before, but think I’ll look for it at the library! Also, this situation sounds very scarily almost real…

    • I think you’ll like it, knowing you’re a fan of dystopia! It is one of those that hits a little close to home, but I liked that about it. It was nice to have a rather even-handed treatment of abortion… it is such a divisive topic that somehow an absurd solution like unwinding allows you to actually talk about it without the conversation turning into a disaster.

  2. Yay! I needed a new book and now I know what to get. I can’t imagine choosing to “unwind” my kids. I was watching “planet earth” on BBC with the kids last night and there was a segment on cranes that fly over the Himalayans. A young crane got detached from the group and two eagles took it down. The mom stayed back for a minute but then kept going. I can’t imagine that point where you choose yourself over your children, but animals do it every day, and we are, essentially animals.

    • There are some bits about how the parents arrive at their decisions to unwind their kids/cope with those decisions… some of it is quite appalling. But I don’t quite know what I would do if I was the parent of an out-of-control teen and there was this option described to me as being better for them and better for society (and better for me, too). It’s totally disturbing and I like to think I wouldn’t do it, but really… I can imagine unwinding felt like a better option to these parents than just watching a kid continually mess up their own life, despite all attempts to intervene. Although, unwinding is essentially giving up on the kid as much as just letting them fail is. (But then, maybe they should let this kid fail, so they can learn from their own mistakes…) Ugh, see what I mean about choices with no good solutions, just lesser evils?

  3. Unwind disturbed me on SO many levels, but it’s such an incredible story. I read it last year and I still think about it ALL the time. Goodreads has finally got the cover for the sequel ‘Unwholly” and a release date: August 28. Part of me is dying to read it and the other part is dreading being back there in that world again, you know? me I can’t remember a book affecting so much. I love your review, and agree with all your points. And I love seeing this book being read and discussed, I think it’s hugely underrated:)

    • I know what you mean about this book being so affecting… I am pretty sure I’ve told my husband and my mom all about it by this point because I can’t stop talking about it. I am a little worried about a sequel, since Unwind was practically perfect, but who am I kidding? I’ll definitely read it!

  4. I’m so glad you read and loved this one! I also still think about it a lot and believe it really is underrated. I will definitely be reading the sequel when it comes out later this year.

  5. So I must have been half asleep when I downloaded this book. I downloaded unravel. It was awful. I kept wondering how you could have liked it. You didn’t and wouldn’t. Wrong book! I looked here today after I finished and figured it out. Sigh.

  6. Pingback: Bruiser- Neal Shusterman « Don't Take My Books Away

  7. Pingback: 2012 End of Year Book Survey « Don't Take My Books Away

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