Thursday, August 18, 2011


Wow. For the second time this summer I have been proven wrong in my assumptions about the current state of Young Adult fiction with a book that I genuinely found both equal parts wanting to throw the book away but having to read it all in one sitting (which I basically did).

Warning: This review might be a little more spoiler-y than I normally like to do. 

This book is Unwind by Neal Shusterman.

I don't have many things to say about the cover. Except that the tagline is reminiscent of the old Goosebumps book which this one blows out of the water. 
The entire premise of this story is, in the future, after the second civil war in the United States is fought over abortion a kind of joke compromise was reached. It's a joke in that the government never thought it would be taken seriously, but were backed into a corner when both sides said it was acceptable. This new law is called The Bill of Life and makes abortion illegal. Instead, if a parent so chooses, once his or her child reaches the age of reason (13) until the child becomes a legal adult (18) the parent can have the child retroactively aborted, or, unwound.

This appeased both sides of the fight as when a child is unwound they are technically not killed. Every part of the child's body is divided up and given to people who need it. Did I forget to mention that unwinding is code for organ harvesting? Because this is the future, even pieces of the brain can be assimilated into someone else. Parents who, for various reasons, no longer want their children can have them unwound but not have to worry about having killed their child.

There are, apparently, many reasons to unwind a child. For the religious you have children tithed, specifically if you have ten children, then by unwinding one child that you raise and brainwash just for this purpose you are giving your ten percent. For those parents that have out of control children, unwinding is a way to not have to deal with the problems. There is a quote from the book where one child has bought into the reasoning behind why he was being unwound; he wasn't particularly good at anything and he'd rather that part of him go on and be successful instead of all of him being worthless. Unwinding also allows an overburdened foster care system the ability to downsize the population they are dealing with if and when budget cuts come along.

Some of you might be thinking, well, it still doesn't really help the pro-choice movement because the mom is forced to keep the kid until they are 13 at least. Well, that's not the case. This law also includes a "storking" clause where a mother can drop off an infant on any doorstep and so long as they are not caught in the act, the family or person that lives there has to legally take the child. This might sound okay, not great, but okay until you realize that storking allows for the shuffling of infants around a neighborhood. So long as no one sees anyone drop the infant on a doorstep, it can be storked indefinitely. That's not the way the law is supposed to work, but if no one sees, no one knows the law was broken.

Because of the high incidence of children being unwound, the medical practice has gotten a little iffy. Why should they fix a problem when they can just replace the organ or limb with something brand new? Even brains can be replaced, which leads to some issues as the brain is never killed off (all children that are unwound are done so completely conscious as it is believed that the child should have the "right to know what is happening to his or her body". One of the most disturbing scenes in the book takes place from the point of view of a teen that is being unwound.) The child's consciousness never actually leaves and sometimes they continue to exist inside the person who received the organ.

Besides exploring some major ethical grey area, this book also looked at some philosophical and biological philosophy of where the soul/consciousness is kept and what it means to be dead. Is muscle memory another manifestation of the consciousness or personality of the unwound?

What I liked about this book is that we are given several different characters to explore these themes through. One of them is an ultra religious tithe who then loses his religion while other characters have no religious affiliation at all. So it's not like the reader is being bombarded by a large amount of religion or anti-religion.

I had a very hard time putting this book down, and after every new revelation found myself mostly disgusted by the people I saw buying into these laws. But then, when I stopped and thought about it, I did not see the main premise of this book as being that far fetched which can be a problem with dystopic futures. Sometimes these books tend to go for the highly disturbing, but go too far overboard and it ends up unrealistic.

The characters were fairly well rounded, the changes that they went through over the course of the book were natural enough with only a few rough spots where a character appeared too cliche or did something solely as a plot device. The ending was fairly surprising as well, considering, and while it does not end on an entirely happy note, it is not entirely hopeless either.

I would recommend this book to people who like: Dystopias, ethical/moral grey areas, and really, REALLY tense moments.


  1. Definitely sounds like my type of book!

  2. Not gonna lie, you were the first person that came to mind when I thought, "Who else needs to read this book?"