I have just been completely knocked over by a book.

39. Unwind by Neal Shusterman (Simon and Schuster, 2007).

I’m not even sure I can write coherently about this book; I literally just finished it and I’m still reeling. The premise is, after the Heartland War was fought–a bloody battle between pro-lifers and pro-choicers–the treaty that is agreed on bans abortion, but introduces a new idea: unwinding. Any teenager can be unwound anytime before their 18th birthday, simply by their parents signing an order. A procedure known as neurografting allows medical science to *recycle* almost 100% of the body. Most unwinds don’t want to be unwound, but have no choice–they’re wards of the state that the government doesn’t want to support any longer, discipline cases, or kids whose parents can’t afford to send them to college. Some religious families sacrifice every tenth child as a form of tithing. Unwanted babies are “storked,” or left on stoops–if a baby is left on your front porch, you are legally obligated to take it in and raise it. The unwound parts still have vague memories of where they came from.

I know, that’s crazy enough, right? What’s even crazier is that Schusterman has made this world eeriely real, and so close in time that you can almost reach out and touch it. The book follows three unwinds who escape their fate; one is a confused tithe, the other two are just trying to make it to their 18th birthdays. They are quickly drawn into an underground that opposes unwinding, but has problems of its own. And I won’t spoil any more for you.

Shusterman keeps up a breakneck pace almost the whole time but it never feels rushed. The characters are likable but also real. And the end; well, like I say, the end just knocked me head-over-teakettle twenty times.

But do you know what the most astonishing part is? This book is YA. Not just categorized in YA even though it really ought to be shelved elsewhere (*cough*Tweak*cough*). This is honest-to-cheese YA, even though it is about abortion and parents signing off on murdering their teenagers and moral dilemmas and explosives and so on. But even so, it has powerful crossover potential (read: this would work equally well for a grownup book discussion group as a YA one; in fact, I’d love to see the outcome of reading this with a mixed batch of teens and adults).

Whew, no kidding, I’m a little exhausted from reading this book. I can’t really recommend it more highly than that.


5 comments so far

  1. Charlie on

    So my schedule for the day was to get up, do some cleaning, and go out to the mall. There were no plans to take most of the day and read Neff’s borrowed copy of Unwind that was sitting on the coffee table, but this is exactly what ended up happening.

    I don’t even know what to say. This book was everything I wanted it to be, and yet nothing like what I had expected. It’s been a long time since I literally couldn’t put a book down, and now this story is a part of me. I feel a bit dizzy. (:

  2. Haleh on

    I’m currently reading this book right now. A librarian recommended it to me, and I’m willing to read anything, so I did.
    But this isn’t what I expected at all.
    This book is so real – it’s creepy. It’s heartbreaking. It’s amazing.
    The betrayal, I can just imagine it. I can just imagine a society so bent on taking life for granted. I haven’t finished this book yet – I’m only halfway.
    I’m trying to really take my time, to absorb everything the book is throwing in my head.
    I can’t even – I can’t even describe how this book is impacting society.
    I’m sixteen years old, and a very political person. This book is everything I needed, and like Charlie, nothing I expected.
    I’m very eager to finish.
    … If I can find time in between TAKS testing and homework. :/

  3. nikole on

    thi book was sooooo good. i told my friend alisia about. this book that i bought was passed around to soo many people. it has a great element to it. I seriously think that what happens in the book could happen for real one day.

  4. Steve on

    Hmmmm well before I post this comment, I’d like to make it clear that 90% of the reviews for Unwind were favorable, so it must be a good book. I’m simply offering my own humble opinion.

    That said, I’m afraid I wasn’t bowled over as others were. I am a HUGE Shusterman fan, and I look forward to devouring any of his new releases. I’m not saying I disliked it; I certainly liked it, but it didn’t move me as much as it should have, with such weighty topics.

    Unlike other reviewers, I found a lack of realism in this future world. Shusterman did a great thing adding in that Ukraine article, because it did up the realism of the story quite a bit. But to think that a government and majority opinion would be swayed to something this illogical and cold-hearted – I have trouble coming to grips with that. Also, the concept of “storking” is just too much – it’s a law that holds little sense or advantage, and as moronic as some of our politicians are, I just can’t see it happening.

    Also, for some reason, the characters didn’t seem as realistic to me as others have stated. Risa seemed a tiny bit cliched, and the transformation Connor made was slightly predictable. Lev’s journey was by far the most intriguing, his character was very well developed.

    I guess overall I would say the premise behind this book, and the themes that it addresses, are genius. I’m just not sure if it were executed as well as it should have been. The book will make you think, no doubt, but it seems like with themes that powerful, the book could have been much more powerful.

    I’m also glossing over the positives, because other reviews seem to have done plenty of that. Overall a decent read, but in my humble opinion, not up to par with some of Shusterman’s other works.

    By the way, I’m new to this blog, and I definitely like all the work you’ve done around here.

  5. Emily on

    I picked up this book in my school library yesterday cause I saw that it was on the reader’s choice list; I just finnished it and I can hardly breath. In my 15 years of life there have only been a few books that I could not put down even to sleep, and Unwind was one of them.

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