Book Review: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

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.

Hardcover: 335 Pages

Series: Unwind Trilogy #1

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers

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I think this may be one of my favorite books, of all times. It deserves a 10 stars out of 5, seriously.  

As the description says, in Shusterman’s futuristic world, the rules have changed quite a bit. Abortions are no longer legal, but a mother can stork her child, which means she can leave it on the doorstep of a family. Called “The Storking Initiative”, the law states that if the people of the house find only the baby, then legally it’s theirs. If they catch the mother in the act, she’s forced to take it back.

Also, once a child reaches the age of 13, he can by unwound. This happens at harvest camps, as they’re called, and it’s not considered murdered for all of the child’s internal organs are transplanted into people who need them, so they consider that their life doesn’t end.  If a kid has reached legal age, 18, he’s no longer in danger of being unwound.

There are also tithes, children born and raised with the sole purpose of being unwound, considered holly for that. One of the characters actually states at some point in the book that tithes can be found even in the Bible.

Before getting too far into the book, I took a moment to consider the premise.  Is it plausible? Could this happen in the future? Could we ever end up so cold and detached that we’d be able to turn our children over to be slaughtered basically and rationalize it? Find logical explanations for it and excuses? I guess, if you take a look at history, it’s not such a huge leap of faith to believe it could happen. But whether you believe it possible or you don’t, try to suspend your disbelief, move past it and read the book, because it is a masterpiece.

First of all, what I found very interesting about the book is that it reads like a play. You’ve got the sets explained at the beginning of each chapter, you’ve got the characters, different scenes from different points of view and the narrator, narrating in the 3rd person.

The story revolves around three different, main characters, all three unwinds – Connor, Risa and Lev – but it’s told from different POV, not just theirs. You also get to read it from the nurses who work at state homes or different juvie cops and so on and so forth. It really reminded me of Vantage Point, the 2008 movie, and it helps to give you The Big Picture. Seeing this world with different eyes makes it whole and real and it was an absolute brilliant choice on Shusterman’s part.

All of the characters, including supporting ones, were so well-rounded and perfectly written. Connor, the problem kid, is shown at first to be an impulsive hot-head, with huge potentional of being a leader, which he actually ends up being.  He’s a great kid after all and a great character.

Risa is a ward of the state and because she screws up a few times during a piano recital, she’s considered useless and sent to be unwound because the state doesn’t have the required money to keep her in the house.  She strong, intelligent and the relationship between her and Connor is so natural and beautiful, even though, mind you, it takes second place to everything else.

Lev, of all of them, goes through the biggest and most complex transformation. Which was great and also shocking, considering he’s a 13-year-old kid with fear and love of and for God at first.

These 3 characters lives intertwine in the most unusual way and they have to help each other survive whether they like the pairing or not. They shape each others lives and personalities in a very believable way.

Even Ariana, Connor’s initial girlfriend, who’s less than a secondary character, was so well written. I both hated and loved her. Hated her for the obvious reason ( read the book and find out) and loved her because the exact same reason makes her very real and possible.

I definitely think the world building could have been better in terms of what this futuristic world really looks like. We’re told that iPods are from their grandfather’s time and plasma TV’s are considered ancient and there’s also a reference to an old movie depicting the future with “flying cars” and people dressed in white like mad scientists, but it’s said that’s not the case. However, that’s all the details we get of this crazy world and I wish Shusterman gave us more.

In spite of that, the book couldn’t have been better. It’s detailed and well written in every other aspect, with a terrifying and powerful story and complex characters.

One of the scenes that was both great from a writing pov and, pardon my french, scary as f*ck, was the harvest scene. You know how Nabokov managed to imbue all of Lolita’s sex scenes with Humbert with so much sexuality and made us all feel disgusted, even though he never gave details or painted us a clear picture of what was happening? That’s exactly what the author did with the harvesting scene. It’s not overly descriptive, it’s not gory, yet it’s horrible and scary and one of the most powerful and emotional scenes in the book.

And to be awake during the harvest, that has to be one of the most efficient psychological tortures, even worse than the chinese water torture. ( click the link in case you don’t know what that is)

What’s worse is that the people don’t do it out of spite or a sense of cruelty or with the intention of being mean ( and that’s saying it lightly). They do it because they genuinely consider that it was the right choice, passing the Bill of Life and making this whole unwinding process possible.

Furthermore, one of the most scary things I found about this story to be, is that these kids are not being hunted by an evil you can’t put a face to, it’s not some fantasy supernatural creature, its people. Human beings. They are being sent to death and betrayed by the people who their supposed to be closest to: their parents.  Ultimately, your supposed to be able to lean on your parents and they’re supposed to be the people who will love you unconditionally, no matter what. And that is not the case here. Now, I’m not a mother so I can’t speak from that point of view, but I do have parents ( and they call me Captain Obvious! ) and let me tell you, that’s a scary prospect, right there.

If I haven’t convinced you to read this book yet, then I’m a lousy reviewer, I guess. But, jokes aside, I would recommend this book to anyone. Excellent, excellent novel, Mr. Shusterman! Looking forward to the sequel.

“I was never going to amount to much anyway,” Samson says, “but now, statistically speaking,
there’s a better chance that some part of me will go on to greatness somewhere in the world.
I’d rather be partly great than entirely useless.”

Question: Do you think it’s possible we could ever end up like that? Is this futuristic world plausible? And, if you read the book, what did you think of it?

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

  1. I keep seeing this book pop up on Goodreads, and I’ve heard only good things so I might have to check it out at some point! It sounds like it has some similarities to Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and that’s a book I’ve wanted to read for ages.
    It has a pretty cool cover too. 🙂

      • Ohhh cool, yeah it’s on mine too. I actually watched the film first (not realizing it was based on a book) and absolutely loved it. It’s dreary, depressing, and grey but I loved it for all those reasons. Such a fascinating story!

      • Too many books, not enough me’s 😀 I did try reading several books at a time once, but all the information got jumbled up in my brain and it’s safe to say I forgot everything I read the day I finished the books. Never doing that again.

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