Monday, July 30, 2012

UNWIND by Neal Shusterman

Genre: Dystopian, science fiction
Rating: *****
Pages: 335
Series: One companion short story available only as an ebook, one sequel scheduled for digital release in late August
Reaction: This was supposed to be my road trip book. But then I rushed through it all the day before.
Connor's been called troubled. Defiant. At risk. A problem child. Now his parent are having him unwound-taken apart piece by piece so his tissue and organs can be donated to someone else. Someone more deserving. And then they're going on a cruise to the Bahamas to celebrate.
Risa an orphan. A ward of the state. Unwanted. A burden. When she's unwound, the state home will recieve a sum of money they can use to provide happy, safe lives for all the other children.
Lev was slated for unwinding at birth because of his family's religion. That makes him special. A tithe. A donation. A gift to the world. He didn't used to mind.
The action kicks in when fate (well, a bus crash and a kidnapping) bring the three together. And from there, it. Does. Not. Stop.  In the moments where they're not on the run, they're hiding under trapdoors or packed into shipping crates. When the police aren't an immediate threat, there's always the risk of mutiny and betrayal. Usually from Lev, the little brat.
I love a good dystopian novel, but some of them are starting to seem the same. Evil dictator killing his own people, war against an unspecified enemy, extreme wealth and poverty, shortages, climate changes, and everything seemed so perfect until the love interest taught you to see otherwise.
UNWIND is everything a dystopian story should be. There's rebellion and plenty of action, and it also provokes questions about life, death, and human nature.
Most of the other reviews I've seen are by adults, parents and non-parents alike, who go on an on about how horrifying the premise is. They would never do that to their own children. No civilized person could. Or could they?
I could believe it. There are plenty of parents who murder their own children, both before and after birth. America aborts more babies each year than soldiers have died in every war combined.
But that's beside the point.
Neal Shusterman isn't the first to raise similar issues. Margaret Peterson Haddix's Shadow Children Sequence and Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card explore worlds dominated by a two children per family law. The Declaration by Gemma Malley takes place in a futuristic Britain where children are outlawed altogether. And then we're back to Suzanne Collins. Spoiler: People die in that book. Or did you know that already?
The world-building in UNWIND is slight. Newspapers are referred to as "retro", Connor describes iPods as "from his grandfather's time", but they still use cell phones. No futuristic technology beyond unwinding is mentioned.
There are a few social changes. Mothers can "stork" unwanted newborns, leave them on some random doorstep and the family is supposed to take them in. "Clappers" are suicide bombers who blow themselves up by-wait for it-clapping.
Political correctness has advanced. The new "appropriate" terms make me laugh everytime. There are no more black and white people, just "umber" and "sienna". Gays, mentioned about twice and appear very briefly without playing a particularly large role in the story, are  now "yin families".
Ah, euphemisms. Even unwinding isn't tehcnically called death. "100 percent of you will still be alive, just in a divided state." So stop complaining, kid.
UNWIND is told from three main perspectives-Connor, Risa, and Lev-with additional chapters narrated by walk-ons. Cops, teachers, and even a rioting mob. My favorite character is Cy-Ty. He's this umber guy who always speaks his mind, but there's a lot more to his mind than first meets the eye.
Of the main three, I liked Risa the best. She's strong. Not in that take-on-the-world-with-her-bare-fists way you're starting to see from more heroines. She just sticks up for herself and her friends whenever there's trouble. Both of the boys have terrific character arcs. Connor learns to contol himself. If I had to pick, I'd call him the main protagonist. But Lev, ooh Lev, he goes from being this whiny, pathetic, brainwashed tithe I wouldn't have minded seeing unwound too terribly'll just have to wait and see.
Yes, there's bad guys and bad laws and bad things happening to good people. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone under thirteen. But if you get caught up on chalking up a list of everything appropriate and inappropriate, you'll miss the whole frecking point. Shusterman creates an issue and comes at it from every angle, every what-if. All the themes and intriguing characters and quote-worthy passages and metaphors and quick, well chosen words are bound together to form the best dystopian novel I've seen in a long time.
Now when does that sequel come out again? The ending's perfect, I could have gone without and been happy, but I still need to read it.

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