REVIEW: Unwind (Unwind #1) by Neal Shusterman

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Genre: Fiction/ Dystopian, Pages: 352, Reading Level: Easy/ Intermediate

Book Description from Barnes & Noble:

“In a society where unwanted teens are salvaged for their body parts, three runaways fight the system that would “unwind” them

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 by desperation, these three unlikely companions make a harrowing cross-country journey, knowing their lives hang in the balance. If they can survive until their eighteenth birthday, 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.

In Unwind, Boston Globe/ Horn Book Award winner Neal Shusterman challenges readers’ ideas about life- not just where life begins, and where it ends, but what it truly means to be alive.”

Holy Moly! How do authors come up with this stuff?

The Second Civil War, also known as The Heartland War, was fought over abortion. As a concession to both sides, life is considered sacred from conception. However, between the ages 13 through 17, parents may decide to retroactively abort their child. Since no life may be ended completely, the body is used for transplants so that technically, the body is alive, just in multiple parts. An order to be unwound is irreversible.

In addition, to alleviate the overwhelming burden of those who cannot deal with an unwanted child, a baby may be ‘storked,’ which means a parent may take that baby and place it on any doorstep, thus relinquishing responsibility as long as he or she is not caught. If caught, that parent must assume responsibility for the rest of the baby’s life, or until the baby reaches the age at which he or she may be unwound. If the parent is not caught, in the spirit of ‘finders keepers,’ the person who is storked, is legally bound to assume responsibility for that baby.

But what happens if a child knows ahead of time that he or she is due to be unwound? That’s what the book Unwind is about.

This book is frighteningly disturbing. I’ll tell you one thing- If you want your kids to behave for a bit, make them read this book.

The story is told from many points of view and I think it works very well in the book. You’ll hear a comment from one point of view and it will seem insignificant, then you’ll hear it from another point of view and realize the importance. I don’t want to explain further and ruin any surprises, but it’s pretty neat.

One of the few criticisms I have of the book is that every once in a while, a point of view is short and the transition to the next feels a little choppy. Maybe it is meant to convey a sense of surrealism but some of the transitions are smoother than others.

So let’s get into some of the nitty gritty!

First I’ll begin with the Storking Initiative, which allows a parent to abandon an unwanted baby by leaving him on any doorstep:

“If they catch her, she’s obliged to keep the baby- that’s part of the Storking Initiative too- but if they open the door and find nothing but the child, it’s ‘finder’s keepers’ in the eyes of the law. Whether they want it or not, the baby is legally theirs… With neither the skill nor the desire to be a mother at this point in her life, storking had always been her best option… As she hurries down the street, she thinks how wonderful it is that she can get a second chance. How wonderful it is that she can dismiss her responsibility so easily.”

That’s just absolutely ridiculous, right?

Check out some of the information on the Child Welfare League of America’s website (www.cwla.org):

Many States have enacted or introduc[ed] legislation that provides a process for legally abandoning a child. The intent is to give parents an avenue to safely turn over their child to a third party. Texas was the first State to enact legislation in September 1999. Forty-one states have passed legislation and many more are in the process. The legislation varies from State to State but they all have similar elements. They provide for an affirmative defense or immunity from criminal prosecution against parents who leave their newborn infants safely in the hands of designated caregivers, as identified by the law. Some provide for anonymity, others require an attempt at establishing the identity of a parent as well as some minimal information about the baby’s history.

And if you go to www.babysafe.ca.gov, you will find information on locations where you can safely abandon a baby in California if performed within 72 hours of its birth.

So while the extent portrayed in this book is obviously taken to the extreme, legal abandonment is not entirely fiction. As I have argued in other places, good dystopian fiction takes a small detail, blows it completely out of proportion and makes it commonplace in a distant future. If there is a little truth to it, it makes a story all the creepier. Creepy is good.

Shusterman even makes a pretty profound statement about terrorism. Forgive me the long excerpt but I hope that with some of these quotes, you will be mesmerized enough to read the book and discuss:

“Who can say what goes through the mind of a clapper in the moment before carrying out that evil deed? No doubt whatever those thoughts are, they are lies. However, like all dangerous deceptions, the lies that clappers tell themselves wear seductive disguises.

For clappers who have been led to believe their acts are smiled upon by God, their lie is clothed in holy robes and has outstretched arms promising a reward that will never come.

For clappers who believe their act will somehow bring about change in the world, their lie is disguised as a crowd looking back at them from the future, smiling in appreciation for what they’ve done.

For clappers who seek only to share their personal misery with the world, their lie is an image of themselves freed from their pain by witnessing the pain of others.

And for clappers who are driven by vengeance, their lie is a scale of justice, weighted evenly on both sides, finally in balance.

It is only when a clapper brings his hands together that the lie reveals itself, abandoning the clapper in that final instant so that he exits this world utterly alone, without so much as a lie to accompany him into oblivion.”

Now onto the main inspiration and topic of Unwind. Please don’t be scared off when I say this. Honestly, give it a chance. This book is phenomenal and I am considering bumping a book off my top ten list to make room for this one.

The inspiration behind this book is the battle over abortion and the consequences of the compromise of unwinding. While the book is absolutely fiction, the intellectual and political arguments are compelling. Rather than coming across as pro-life or pro-choice, the story comes across somewhere in the middle, pro-reality. The same goes for liberal and conservative. The story lies somewhere in between. For example:

“You can’t change laws without first changing human nature.” Nurse Greta

“You can’t change human nature without first changing the law.” Nurse Yvonne

Here is a quote the sums up the abortion stance of the book, in my opinion:

“Which was worse, Risa often wondered- to have tens of thousands of babies that no one wanted, or to silently make them go away before they were even born? On different days Risa had different answers.”

And don’t expect to be spared the details of an unwinding. While it is not graphic, it is still horrifying; It made me nauseous and I cried.

Wow, there is so, so much more. I could go on for pages and pages. There were so many parts I wanted to include here but decided to stick with what you see and hope you read it for yourself. Allow me to give you a short list of a few things I decided to leave out:

What happens when part of a brain is transplanted and the recipient experiences residual memories? This part was heartbreaking. I cried.

What happens when parents change their mind? What ends up happening to those parents?

Does money play a factor? Do rich people get better body parts? How are those body parts determined to be better?

If parents sign their kid up to be unwound, is the child taken away immediately, or does he or she stay with the parents until the legal age of unwinding?

What happens to orphans?

These are not discussion questions. These are things I wanted to include in my review, which are indeed addressed in Unwind.

I wrote a post titled BORING! High School Reading Lists in which I argue that if you want kids to love to read, books like Unwind should be on high school reading lists instead of many of the classics, like The Great Gatsby. I am sure some of the opposition to this is lack of discussion topics in modern Young Adult fiction, which I also address in the above post. Unwind is filled with so much to discuss, so much to haunt, so much that will keep you up at night, thinking. If I had to give one short sentence describing what this book is about, it would be-

Unwind is A Modest Proposal gone bad.

Reviewed by Christina

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