Book Review: UnWholly, by Neal Shusterman

I’ve finished reading the second installment of Neal Shusterman’s UnWind Dystology, called UnWholly. I have to admit, I was a bit wary that UnWholly might fall into the sequel rut, where the story becomes pointlessly convoluted, our favorite characters are changed completely, or the sequel feels like it doesn’t do much other than serve as a placeholder between the previous and next books. However, UnWholly did not disappoint at all. It was as brilliant as UnWind, if not more. It’s hard to write solely about UnWholly without bringing UnWind into the conversation. The two are so closely entwined, and while UnWind does have its own standalone plot, it’s much more than just a second book with another plot. The plot deepens, develops complications, and the characters grow. It strikes the perfect balance between complicating the story and complicating the characters, yet retaining what intrigued us most about them. UnWholly leaves its readers both satisfied yet hungry for what happens next.

(Spoilers ahead.)

I love the fluidity of Shusterman’s storytelling style. UnWholly takes place right where UnWind leaves off–in fact, a bit before the ending of UnWind, from the point of view of a new character, Starkey. There’s a moment in UnWind where a kid in the crowd of new unwind rescues shouts about Connor’s involvement in the Happy Jack Harvest Camp incident. This moment carries over into UnWholly, described from the point of view of Starkey. Reading this part in UnWind meant something different to me–it showed Connor’s character, how he wanted to go about rebelling against the policy and promotion of unwinding. Not with vengeance, not with violence, but instead, with rising above that and making something of oneself. It gave a feeling of completion, a feeling that this was a small step toward change. This same moment from UnWind felt different in UnWholly. Rather than a feeling of resolution, this moment felt more like the opening up of a conflict. It felt more like a step back, a conflict within the unwinds themselves, a complication between the sides of pro-unwinding and against unwinding. Reading this part in Starkey’s perspective also showed his own character and how different he was from Connor; where Connor acted out of selflessness and integrity, Starkey acted out of revenge and spite.

Small moments and even minor characters from UnWind resurface in UnWholly and prove vital parts of the story. Starkey is one example; Samson is another. We generally forget about Samson once Risa escapes the unwind bus, yet his character reappears, albeit in a different way, when we are introduced to Cam. The story of UnWholly flows seamlessly from UnWind and unearths various sides of the main conflicts presented in UnWind, particularly in the case of Cam. I just love how calculated Shusterman’s storytelling is. No small detail goes unnoticed; no small detail is arbitrary. Every word on the page has a purpose, and the story is brilliantly unfolded.

I also love the character development in UnWholly. What sometimes happens in book series is the fundamental traits of the characters change drastically, almost unrealistically, as the series progresses, which makes it difficult for us to embrace and believe the story. Connor, Risa, and Lev, have all changed, but at the core, they are still unmistakably the characters we fell in love with in UnWind. They have grown since UnWind, but they are still recognizable. Connor is no longer the trouble-making teen or the guy who gets in fights; he is now the leader in the Graveyard. He is much less concerned with self-preservation or having the last say; instead he is concerned with saving others and choosing his battles. He is responsible, he commands respect, he acts with integrity. Yet, he is still Connor. He still has the same core values that defined his character, just channeled in a different way. He is still selfless, the same person who has an inclination for doing the right thing, even if that may put him in danger, even if that may not be the best decision. However, instead of acting impulsively, he now acts in a much more calculated, thought-out way. He is still the same person who values his relationships with others above all else, who would still distance himself from those close to him if it meant their safety. His growth is natural and believable; he is different, yet still the same person.

Risa has a similar character development. Risa’s growth, in my opinion, is less than Connor’s or Lev’s, but I still think her character is developed well in both books. We’ve seen Risa’s selflessness in UnWind in many instances, such as when she chooses not to have an unwind’s spine, thus leaving her disabled. In UnWholly, Risa’s character faces more tough decisions when she is compelled to go against everything she believes in in order to support everything that she believes in. She chooses to get her spine replaced in exchange for keeping her friends at the Graveyard, including Connor, safe, in order that those at the Graveyard continue to carry out their operations and save unwinds.

Lev’s character growth is one of the most compelling, in my opinion. I’ll venture out and say that his character development is different from how Connor and Risa’s characters developed. Lev’s character changes drastically from the beginning of UnWind to UnWholly, and in parts of UnWind, it’s astonishing that the vengeful clapper was once the naive, angelic boy we were introduced to at the beginning of the story. However, his character growth and change is still very much believable. In UnWind, Lev learns that he has, essentially, been lied to his entire life regarding his tithing. While Risa and Connor grow yet retain something of themselves, Lev’s character growth throughout UnWind is much more about developing himself and his beliefs. In UnWholly, he has found that, yet he is still growing, still trying to come to terms with losing his family, being forgiven for his actions, and fulfilling a greater purpose.

UnWholly was published five years after UnWind, yet it retains the essence of its predecessor and seamlessly continues the UnWind story. I find UnWholly especially intriguing because it introduces another side to the primary debate in UnWind–what constitutes life–with the introduction of Cam. Cam is far from a robot or a monster–he thinks and feels and even comes to love another person. UnWholly shows just how complex this issue is, and leaves readers anxious for the next installment, UnSouled.

One Reply to “Book Review: UnWholly, by Neal Shusterman”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s