Book Review: UnWind, by Neal Shusterman

I’ve just finished reading the first two books in what’s called the UnWind Dystology, by Neal Shusterman. It was so brilliant that I absolutely had to review it and sing its praises out to the blogosphere. Provocative and brilliantly thought-out, it’s a series I wholeheartedly recommend for anyone looking for a book that’ll tug at your mind and leave you pondering.

The first book in the series is called UnWind. The premise of the story is based on the controversial issue of Pro-Life and Pro-Choice. UnWind takes place after the Second Civil War, also known as the Heartland War, fought over reproductive rights. The war was fought until both parties came to this agreement: Life was inviolable from conception until age 13, but between the ages of 13 and 17, parents could choose to “unwind” their child if they deemed that their birth was a mistake. “Unwinding” refers to the donation of each of the child’s organs–around 99 percent of the unwound child is used, thus allowing for the claim that life “technically” doesn’t end if all their parts are still alive. The story follows Connor, Risa, and Lev, each sentenced to unwinding for different reasons. Their paths inevitably cross, and they find themselves fighting for their lives and for their survival…

(THE FOLLOWING MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!)

The novel goes back and forth between Connor’s, Risa’s, and Lev’s points of view, as well as other supporting characters, and we see their separate situations which eventually cross paths. What I think the novel does particularly well is develop the individual characters’ stories, as well as the overarching plot. Rather than feeling disparate, switching points of view actually feels quite cohesive, and each point of view provides vital perspectives of the same events, such as the end scene at Happy Jack Harvest Camp.

The separate storylines of Connor, Risa, and Lev also work well in helping to provide exposition and character development. Connor, Risa, and Lev each start out as completely different people. Connor goes from a trouble-making, impulsive teen to a selfless, brave leader, whom others respect. Lev struggles to find something to believe in when Pastor Dan goes against everything Lev has been taught and tells Lev to escape his tithing. Risa, who has grown up with the idea that she was unwanted, finds that she does have people (Connor and Lev) who believe her life is worth saving–in fact, who would risk their own lives to save hers. Each of the three protagonists go through their own journey, their own struggles, which ultimately shapes who they are. Connor’s skills as a fighter and a leader, once viewed as the rebellious nature of a teenage boy, are brought out by Risa, who teaches him to think before acting, and most importantly, who allows him to learn what it is to love another before oneself. Risa finds a sense of belonging at the Graveyard where she cultivates her abilities as a medic and fills a vital place in the fight against unwinding.  Lev, at the end of the novel, chooses to save Connor and Risa rather than “clap,” because saving them is more important to him than his own vengeance. Connor, Risa, and later, Lev, each find their sense of purpose and responsibility when they find people they are willing to fight for–each other. Although separate stories, they play pivotal roles in shaping the overall theme of the story: of rediscovering the traits that mark humanity–compassion, community, love, selflessness.

UnWind grapples with issues that still plague our society, issues that are multifaceted and not easily resolved. In the novel, life has become cheap, and human beings view others as a collection of viable parts, rather than as other human beings. Shusterman’s novel paints an unsettling picture of a future in which many people have lost their humanity and reminds us of what we should truly value above all else. If you’re searching for a book that’s both entertaining and though-provoking, your search ends here

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