This book could change your life.
Imagine a world in some not-so-distant future where parents can choose to end the lives of their inconvenient children—the troublemakers and underachievers—between the ages of 13 and 18. This is the world after the Heartland War, an American civil war fought over reproductive rights and resulting in a frightening truce. This is the world of Neal Shusterman’s Unwind.
The rejected children don’t technically die; they are “unwound”—that is, they are surgically taken apart, one piece at a time, while they’re still alive. The authorities argue that this is not murder because “unwinds” are kept alive “in a divided state” and their “parts” sold for medical and cosmetic transplants.
Unwind is the story of 3 runaway unwinds fighting for their lives in a world that only wants them in pieces. Connor is a troubled youth whose parents choose to unwind him because they’re tired of him getting into fights at school, even though the fights are usually for a good reason. Risa is an orphan, a ward of the state, being unwound because she wasn’t considered to be exceptional enough for the state to justify supporting her any longer. Lev is a tithe whose religious parents give away 10% of everything they have, including their 10th child.
Connor runs away from home after discovering his parents’ intent to unwind him, and Risa escapes her unwinding sentence when the bus transporting her to the harvest camp suddenly crashes. Lev, on the other hand, has known all his life that he is destined for unwinding, and he is at peace with this until he is roughly torn from his destiny by a kidnapper trying to save him. Our heroes inadvertently happen upon a sort of “underground railroad” intended to save unwinds from their fate, but they don’t know who is in charge, whom they can trust, where they’re going, or what will happen to them there.
Since this book is about 13- to 18-year olds, I suspect this is its target audience. Personally, I probably would not have appreciated it until I was about 16, when I attended a Catholic high school and began to realize that my own beliefs did not match those imposed on me at school. Like many teens, I was preoccupied with ethical questions and finding my place in the world.
No matter what side of the abortion debate you sit on, this book asks provoking questions about when life begins, what sorts of supports exist for kids once they are born, the nature of the human soul, who gets to make life and death decisions, whether anyone ought to profit from the death industry, and about the nature of death itself. I recognize that this sounds really heavy, but it’s often presented in a simultaneously humourous and honest way. Answers to these questions are still very raw and rough and unfinished for most teens; the book doesn’t seem to push a specific political agenda, but instead provides fuel for readers to sort out their own beliefs.
Unwind is an exciting tale of adventure, heroism, survival, protest, friends, family, life, death, and doing the right thing even when it’s most difficult. Fans of the Hunger Games or Divergent trilogies will love Unwind for its strong sense of social justice and youth fighting for their survival in an unjust world. Teens who enjoy this book might also enjoy The Knife of Never Letting Go (of the Chaos Walking trilogy) because it, too, is set in a dystopian future that is a bit like our own world but different in some very important ways; it is also a story about teens trying to escape a terrible fate only to find themselves facing it head-on.
While Unwind successfully stands alone as a complete work, it will leave you aching to find out what happens next. Luckily you can! Unwind is only the first book in a 4-part “dystology” that ends in some incredible, unpredictable, but nevertheless plausible ways. While I found books 2 and 3 to be a little slower-paced and less interesting, book 4 grabbed me by the eyes and did not let go until I’d finished it. Unwind has become one of my favourite books (I’ve read it at least 4 times in the last 2 years) and I would wholeheartedly rate it 5/5 flashlights.