Friday, September 16, 2011

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

Unwind (Unwind, #1)

Unwind is one of the most incredible dystopian novels I have ever read. I literally had to sit and think about what I had just read once I reached the end, and believe me, I had not put the book down for a second until I did reach the end. I would describe Unwind as an intense and insightful journey into the darker side of human nature.

It seems that our society is so willing to put a price tag on anything, marketing, buying an selling, determining value based on monetary worth. Shusterman just takes that next step and has us imagine if society were to decide to buy and sell life itself. Society, of course, put a pretty face on it, calling it Unwinding, or living in a "divided state" and justifying it by saying that the kids will technically still be alive since every single body part is harvested and used. It may seem, at first, that this is a farfetched concept but I don't think that it is. I think that people might be surprised at just how many parents would be willing to sell out their own kids in this way. Shusterman presented these parents so very realistically, so self righteous and judgmental, so willing to lie to their kids and to themselves to convince them that what they were doing was justified since it was socially acceptable. Then the first time they were confronted with the results of the horror they perpetuated on their own children, they would be offended as if they were the victims.

Shusterman did an incredible job building the tension and suspense. As I got further and further into the book, it became progressively more difficult to read, almost uncomfortable. It was so amazingly perceptive, I could really feel what these characters must have been going through as they struggled to survive, on the run from those who wanted to harvest their body parts because, according to society, their lives were not worth enough to allow them to continue to live. I was so impressed that the author took a volatile controversial subject like pro life vs. pro choice and based the premise around this debate but did not in any way come off as preachy. After reading the book, I still don't have an inking where he stands on the issue. That in itself is impressive.

The actual act of "Unwinding" is horrific, terrifying, and I found myself still thinking about it as I fell asleep that night. This is definitely the kind of book that sticks with you. One reason I believe dystopians like this are so scary yet so compelling is because they are so utterly plausible. So many things are treated as a commodity to be bought and sold, its not a far leap of the imagination to think that one day even life could be treated that way too. If you think I'm wrong, watch an episode of Jerry Springer or Maury Povich. Thats not exactly harvesting body parts, but its still life being exploited as a commodity, for others entertainment and enjoyment. Like I said, its not that far a stretch of the imagination to go from that to Shusterman's futuristic society.

Shusterman shifted effortlessly from one point of view to the next. Normally, this style of writing would have driven me nuts, but in Unwind, it wasn't a problem. I can't imagine the book being as effective without the alternating POVs. It definitely worked in this instance without being the distraction one would think it would be. The actual famous quotes he added throughout the book added to the plausibility of the plot.

Each character brought something different and important to the story. Even the secondary characters played such an integral part of the story, there wasn't any introduced that wasn't absolutely essential and each one had their own story, their own depth. Troubled teenagers making stupid, impulsive decisions but were still so endearing because of their genuine fear and confusion about what was happening to them. Some of their stories were heart wrenching and more than once I found myself teary eyed.

There were a few flaws of course. The notion that harvested body part can retain any level of consciousness goes too far past believable for me, but I guess this is ultimately a fantasy novel so some things do not need to be in the realm of scientific possibility. That was just one small aspect of the book that didn't work for me. Everything else was perfection.

I simply cannot recommend this book enough. I know that there is no way my jumbled review did this book the justice it deserved but beleive me when I say this is one you don't want to miss. Especially if, like me, you are a fan of  dystopian themed fantasy.

Rating - 5


Annette Mills said...

This book still haunts me. So creepy and scary. Try "Never Let Me Go" by Ishiguro, if you haven't read it yet...Great review. Thanks!

Swati Hegde said...

This book didn't impact me as much as I'd thought it would, but it was a good read nonetheless. I'll definitely be reading the rest of the books in the series!
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