Sunday, December 9, 2012

Unwind by Neal Shusterman - Book Review


Connor, Risa, and Lev are running for their lives.

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.

I start this review speechless, but I know the words will flow as I type so here goes.  I started Unwind because it got some good reviews and had an interesting premise.  I figured I'd like it, but I did not expect to find myself totally immersed in the world Shusterman created, terrified and chilled yet too compelled to put the novel down.  The premise of a future where the debate over reproductive rights has been “resolved” by outlawing fetal abortions but allowing parents the option of aborting – or “unwinding” – any of their children between the ages of 13 and 18 on the condition that every part of them is still alive, transplanted into many different people, is a hard one to swallow.  But this novel does a fantastic job of making it seem not only less insane, but actually all too possible.

I mean, it’s not like social cultures that exist today haven’t been brainwashed to accept atrocities as just a part of life.  We’re in one.  The most successful dystopias are the ones that draw on this and use it to create a terrifying future that could become a chilling reality, and Unwind does just that.

Connor is a misunderstood bad-boy, rebellious and hot-headed but also heroic and honorable.  Risa is a ward of the state whose only mistake was being just a little less than perfect, and Lev is a thirteen year old boy who was bred for a singular purpose, like privileged cattle in a slaughterhouse.  All three find themselves betrayed by their parents or guardians and on their way to a “harvest camp”, where their lives will be divided into a thousand living pieces.  While Unwind has many different perspectives in it, Connor, Risa and Lev own the vast majority of the chapters.  All are likeable, though Risa gets lost just a bit behind the explosiveness of Lev, and Connor’s heroism.

There are a few small bumps and jolts along the ride this novel takes you on, but when the final pages are turned, you won’t be thinking about them.  You’ll be thinking about all the strong moral and societal implications, the horror of a world in which life is cheap until you reach a certain age.  You’ll be left wondering what the future has in store for us if the most horrifying possibilities can be twisted to seem just and plausible using the right blend of politics, and religious families see selling their own children as a sacred and holy sacrifice –“…when Bible passages become shredded to justify unwinding, and kids start to see the face of God in the fragments.”– pg 280.

And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be thinking about one of the most chilling chapters ever written in YA.  Not for its brutality, but for the cold acceptance and execution of what is absolutely and positively too horrifying to even contemplate.  In fact, that chapter alone bumps my overall rating up a star; I found myself struggling to read through it, but I mean that in the best possible way.

I always finish writing reviews of fantastic books just knowing I didn’t do them justice, and so is the case now with Unwind.  It hit the mark on all the emotional, dystopian and horror elements it was supposed to, and left me thinking about it long after I finished.  If you’re a fan of the dystopian craze, read Unwind.  It’ll make half of the dystopians since The Hunger Games seem like nothing more than a flash in the pan, proving to me yet again that the best in this particular genre were published before it became a YA phenomenon.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman - 5 out of 5 stars


  1. Have you read the sequel yet? It still has me thinking, and I read it months ago! It has more problems than Unwind did, but also did somethings better too. The final in the Trilogy is coming out later this year I believe.

    -Cain Freeman

    1. No, I haven't gotten around to reading UnWholly yet. But I want to! A person made solely of unwound parts? Creeeeepy.

  2. Unwind is one of the few books that I couldn't review. I knew I just couldn't do it justice. I actually don't know which chapter you mean, because for me, there were two: the one with Cy-Fi and the one with Roland. I don't know how Neal managed to put all those moving storylines in one novel. I really like your review.

    1. Aw! The Cy-Fi one! That was crazy, but I meant Roland's. It's just so...clinical. I still get chills thinking about it. And I agree, the man is a freaking genius!

      Thanks, Reem! :D


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