Author: Neal Shusterman
Publication Date: 11/6/07
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Blurb: 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.
I approached rereading Unwind with trepidation. I generally enjoy revisiting books in series before each new release, but two reasons held me back in this case:
1) My original reading of Unwind left me completely horrified and I wasn't sure I would want to relive this story again (my husband is still too scared to revisit it); and
2) Unwind was one of the very first books I read when I had just discovered YA back in 2009, and it was also one of my very first dystopias. I didn't have much to compare it to then and, let's be honest, I liked quite a bit of crap YA at that time. Plus, there have been so many dystopias published since then, surely it would be very unlikely for an older novel to be better than newer ones?
I shouldn't have worried. Unwind proves once again that most of the best YA dystopias were published way before the current dystopian craze.
What stood out for me the most this time is how political this novel is. Reading the latest YA releases would make you think that dystopias are all about running around and snogging while hiding from the big bad government that wants to kill you for no good reason. But Unwind, while containing all these tropes (running, hiding, and a bit of romance), has plenty else to think about in relation to the oppressive government.
I know some readers can't quite swallow the premise of this book, find it unrelatable, implausible, etc., etc. (Catie can tell you all about her problems with this novel) - yeah, the idea that people in a country would ever resolve the pro-life vs pro-choice conflict by abolishing abortion but allowing parents of the unwanted, troublemaking teens ages 13 to 18 to have an option to "unwind" them into parts that are later used for transplants is a pretty crazy one. Parental love and all that. BUT, I am not oblivious enough not to know that there are parents who sell their children into prostitution in order to have money to feed the rest of their family, who throw their newborn daughters into the dumpsters because dowries are strenuous on family finances and boys are just plain better, that entire nations were and are involved in genocides and scientific experiments on people (adults and children) that are deemed not racially desirable (Nazis anyone?) And don't get me started on the pro-life movement, members of which are preoccupied with saving lives of the not-yet-born, but have absolute disregard for the mothers' health or the well-being of those children when they are born and need monetary support for medical care or education, or, alternatively, this forced abortion story fresh off Jezebel's presses. So yes, the premise is far-fetched, as far-fetched as stories about the inhumanity of clones (The House of the Scorpion, Never Let Me Go), women used for nothing more than breeding (The Handmaid's Tale) or children forced to play survival games (The Hunger Games) are, but I believe in it, because I've seen things just as vile in real life.
... And back to the politics of Unwind. (I get carried away so easily ...) Besides the most obvious from the synopsis issue of pro-live/pro-choice conflict, Shusterman skillfully incorporates into his story domestic terrorism, religious brainwashing, and, the most disturbing part - the politics of transplant therapy, because an opportunity for adults to have an easily available supply of young organs (or hair!) sweetens the whole unwinding deal so nicely.
Glad to say, I feel like I can safely continue recommending this novel. And I can't wait to read more about this unsettling world. UnWholly, evidently, has a character made entirely of spare body parts! Goodness, I don't think I am fully recovered from Shusterman's variation of Humpty Dumpty yet...