Author: Neal Shusterman
I had not read any books by Neal Shusterman before I read this one, the first in a series of four books (the fourth of which is being released later this year) about a futuristic society where unwanted children are unwound-essentially they are used as organ donors and so are supposedly not being killed but just living in a “divided” state-there are no cures for anything anymore, if a part of your body breaks down and you can afford it, you can just buy an unwind’s body part to replace it-this procedure of unwinding is the result of a pro-life/pro choice war-abortions are illegal, but parents can choose to have their child unwound between the ages of 13-18 because their child’s parts technically live on-just in other people. It’s an interesting concept and the book kept me hooked all the way through-it’s a chilling book with strong lead characters and the question of if all a child’s parts are used, is the child really dead, or do they just live on in a different state? Here is the synopsis of the book:
Connor’s parents want to be rid of him because he’s a troublemaker. Risa has no parents and is being unwound to cut orphanage costs. Lev’s unwinding has been planned since his birth as part of his family’s strict religion. Brought together by chance, and kept together through desperation, these three unlikely companions make a harrowing cross-country journey, knowing all the while that their lives are hanging in the balance. If they can survive until their eighteenth birthdays, they can’t be harmed. But when every piece of them, from their hands to their hearts, are wanted by a world gone mad, eighteen seems far, far away…
The book follows the three characters mentioned above, Connor Lassiter, a sixteen year old who constantly gets into trouble, Risa Ward (all children who are in the care of the state have the surname Ward) a fifteen year old ward of the state who is a victim of budget cuts and Levi “Lev” Calder who is a thirteen year old tithe-his parents had him specifically so he could be unwound (as a way of giving back to God). The book is written in third person present tense which was a little strange for me at first, since not many books are written like this but once you get used to it, it’s easy enough to follow. The book raises many interesting ethical issues such as-is it acceptable to make organ donation compulsory and where should we draw the line? Does anyone have the right to decide whether other people should live or die? (even though the people who are unwound are not classed as dead), what is consciousness? Can organs remember the body that they came from? and of course is Unwinding murder or are unwinding and death different things?
The characters themselves are likeable-Connor and Risa (who are the couple in this book-don’t worry though, romance is definitely secondary), make a great team as he is the impulsive, rebellious type (yet also extremely loyal to his friends) whilst she is intelligent one who is good at planning and being able to read people’s emotions. Lev was a little harder to like at first as he starts out a wimpy, religious fanatic kid who is willing to be unwound but as the story unfolds he becomes a more likeable character. They all have strong personalities and you have very strong feelings on who you want to survive (or not in one particular character’s case). The characters all by one means or another escape their unwinding and go on the run, hoping to stay hidden until they reach eighteen when the state can no longer touch them.
The story works because the premise behind it is not implausible-admittedly I can’t imagine any parents who would want to have their child unwound, but with the need for organ donors and the situation in their society when the bill was passed, the reason for unwinding is logically presented and it’s not impossible that in desperation a society (even ours) could turn to a solution like unwinding and this makes the concept all the more frightening as it is not something that is completely impossible.
As well as the main story of these three teenagers on the run, there is a subplot of a mysterious, legendary teenager called Humphrey Dunfee (who turns out to be more than a legend but I don’t want to spoil anything) and a father who was involved in drawing up the bill of life and ended up paying a huge price for it, but has spent his life since trying to save these Unwinds from going to harvest camps. There is also a teen called CyFi who received part of a teenager’s brain and has no control over this part of his brain as that part of the brain still thinks it’s in the unwound teenager’s body.
The harvest camps were horrific-they look like idyllic summer camps with beautiful surroundings and pastel colours (no red as it is the colour of anger, aggression and probably most importantly death) with surgeons dressed in colourful scrubs and guards in cheerful clothing which really only serves to remind of the evil beneath the surface-one of the most chilling details is that there is a band stationed on the roof of the unwinding centre (known as the chop shop to the teens) who play as the teens go in for their unwinding-I found this particularly creepy. The camps are a shade of the world war two Nazi death camps. The most disturbing part of the book, without a doubt is when we are taken through the unwinding of a teenager (not going to say who), and the teen is fully conscious throughout-they know exactly what is happening to them but they can’t feel any pain. The child is taken apart and their parts redistributed in just 3 hours nineteen minutes and the process is all very clinical and unfeeling-it’s a horrible thought that a human life can be ended in just over three hours and in such an emotionless way and that chapter stayed with me for a while after reading.
Overall Unwind is a thought provoking, chilling, action packed, incredible read with strong characters (the third person present tense also allows us to see the thoughts of minor characters that the main characters meet along the way) who are well developed and well thought out through the story and we get to see the point of view of Unwinding from all sides-the teenagers who are going to be unwound, the people who carry out the unwinding, the parents and people who decide which teenagers are to be sent off to be unwound and someone who helped the bill of life (and therefore unwinding) be passed in the first place-you get a good idea of all the views but ultimately Shusterman leaves it for you to decide your own stance on unwinding. I was hooked throughout, and although it is billed as like The Hunger Games, I think it’s one of the most unique books I’ve ever read and would definitely make a good movie. I am thoroughly looking forward to reading the sequel Unwholly.
The next book I will be reviewing is the first book in the Divergent trilogy-Divergent by Veronica Roth.