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Review: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Unwind - Neal Shusterman

Unwind is a book not easily forgotten, and one that I'm surprised I haven't heard more about. With dystopian novels in high demand, this one should be getting more attention. It's at least as good as Hunger Games and soars above Divergent.


This novel takes place in the not-too-distant future after America has experienced a Second Civil War. This time the split is between pro-life and pro-choice rather than north and south. This moral dilemma is presented in a completely unbiased way. Even at the end of the novel, I couldn't tell you which side of the present day debate Shusterman finds himself on, but this book portrays a possible future.


The two sides compromise in order to bring an end to the fighting. Life will be legally defined as beginning at conception, but parents will be given the option of having teenagers "unwound" between the ages of 13-18. This five year window of unprotected right to life leads to big business in the form of unwinding. In the unwinding process, which is chillingly described in one chapter, a person's organs are harvested and purchased by others, either to extend their life or for more vain purposes such as preferring a new eye color.


Conner, Risa, and Lev are the main characters with diverse pasts that bring them together as those scheduled for unwinding. As they fight to escape this fate, they face questions of self-worth, morality, and spirituality. These teenagers are realistic and troubled, but each has redeeming qualities, gifts, and a desire to live.


The bureaucrats in control argue that those who are unwound do go on living. Calling unwinding death is considered offensive because the process ensures that 100% of the person goes on "living in a divided state." But it sure seems like death to the kids taken off to harvesting camp.


The author does an exemplary job of writing about a touchy subject without taking sides and at a level appropriate for middle school age kids. If life is protected from conception, what do we do with millions of unwanted children? If life isn't protected, how do we decide who doesn't get to live? Unwind is an excellent, thought-provoking book that should be on everyone's to-read list.