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Unwind by Neal Shusterman

September 11, 2010
Cover of "Unwind"

Cover of Unwind

I am a newbie to Neal Shusterman. The first novel that I read by him was the much-acclaimed Everlost. I enjoyed Everlost but not quite enough to by the still-in-hardcover sequel, Everwild. I picked up Unwind in the bookstore last weekend following the post-Mockingjay blog on Bookshelves of Doom. I admit that I began reading this book with some trepidation because I was not able to finish The Hunger Games. The storyline was just too gruesome for me and, frankly, I just never warmed up to Katniss. I’m sure someone will probably be thinking that I should have kept reading, but I just couldn’t.

Now you’re wondering, if I’m so lily-livered, why did I decide to read Unwind? Well, despite my experience with The Hunger Games, I was willing to give the Dystopian Futuristic Genre another chance. I hoped that someone could do it on a level that I was more comfortable with. Though that is possibly not ever going to happen, given the nature of the genre. I will say that, if the ability to finish a book is the test that measures my comfort level, then Shusterman was able to pull it off. I did finish Unwind. It was well written and thought provoking, but possibly not in the way that the author meant it to be.

Unwind tells the story of three teenagers. Matt, Risa and Lev are all scheduled to be unwound. The law of this Dystopian future is that abortions are illegal, but parents can decide to have their children unwound between the ages of thirteen and seventeen. Being unwound means that all the parts of the teenager (98%, actually) are given to another person (i.e., someone either in need of a new hand or eye or arm or else just wants a new one). In this way, the teenager is still considered to be “alive”, albeit not in his or her original form. So cutting teenagers up into bits and pieces is considered to be a sane, legal, morally acceptable thing to do in Matt, Risa and Lev’s society. Unwind begins by telling us how each of the protagonists come to be runaways from this terrible fate.

Matt, at sixteen, has been giving his parents a run for their money. He is a Rebel and a Bad Seed. He gets into fights and gets bad grades. At the beginning of the novel, Matt has found out that his parents have decided to get him unwound and he plans to run away. His girlfriend, at first, agrees to go with him and backs out at the last minute. Risa is a ward of the state that is just not talented enough to justify her existence. The money it takes to house and support her is needed elsewhere so it has been decided that she, too, will be unwound. Lev’s story is a little different. He is a tithe, a child born to be unwound. His parents had him for the express purpose of donating his body parts to those in need.

The three teens meet when Matt’s escape causes a terrible scene. Matt causes an accident that kills the driver of the bus that Risa is on. In order to make amends for the death of the bus driver, Matt kidnaps Lev, to save him from being unwound. What Matt doesn’t realize is that Lev has been indoctrinated in the unwind mentality. He views Matt not as his savior but a person who has kept him from his desired fate.

Though Risa and Matt spend most of the novel together,r Lev, through his decision to betray them, goes on his own journey. Lev experiences the most disillusionment in this novel but that makes sense, given his background and his youth. Matt and Risa already know that unwinding is wrong—their journey is more about making their lives (those that others have deemed worthless) meaningful.

Clearly Shusterman was trying to make a point with this novel. And I get that sometimes, in order to make a point, you have to take things to extremes. That’s what hyperbole is all about. Though Shusterman was successful in painting a horrific future for America, I guess I still have enough faith in humanity to believe that unwinding could never happen. The most truly horrifying Distopias are the ones that really seem possible. I think I was able to finish this book because I never suspended my disbelief long enough to picture such a future. That’s not to say that I didn’t find Matt, Risa and Lev’s world terrifying, not least because no one ever has the kind of philosophical discussion that it warrants. I kept waiting for someone to point out the obvious: if you separate all your body parts and you no longer have a conscious mind, then how can anyone still consider you alive?

I want to make sure, before I end this review, to give Shusterman props for the unwinding scene in the book, when we actually get to see what the process entails. Without resorting to gory imagery (or maybe because he didn’t), it is still the stuff nightmares are made of.

So, great book, but not 100% perfect. The writing was good, but I don’t think Shusterman was quite able to make his picture of the future completely work.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Julie permalink
    November 9, 2010 7:07 pm

    I just read this one, and I really enjoyed it. I heard that he’s going to write a second book in a few years.

    • November 9, 2010 7:16 pm

      Wait–really? I totally want to read it. Do you know anything about it–like does it have the same characters or does it just take place in the same universe?

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