Unwind by Neal Shusterman is a fantastic reminder of why I like reader discussion groups. Unwind was one of the February reading selections for the online young adult reading group I belong to at Good Reads. If not for recommendations such as theirs, I would miss many great books like Unwind.
Picture a futuristic world, where a war has occurred between the pro-life and pro-choice groups. In the end, neither group really won. The representatives merely reached a compromise that suited both sides. They allow parents to unwind their teenagers. If a young person has become one too many mouths to feed or is a delinquent or whatever the reason, parents can sign papers to have their child unwound. Next time, you pass a group of adolescents, imagine how that girl’s blonde hair would beautify a homely neighbor, that athletic guy’s legs would speed up a couch potato, that girl’s math smarts would enhance the performance of an – accountant, or that guy’s perfect eyes would eliminate your need for glasses. Creeped out yet? You should be. In this futuristic Nazi-like world, teenagers can be unwound to replace adult parts. After reading plenty of adolescent books that have grown stale with their emphasis on romance and the supernatural, this science fiction novel is a welcome change while also being weird enough to suit my tastes for extraordinary plots.
Now think back to the last time you lost your temper. It probably won’t take you too long. What if you knew that the next time you blew it, your life would end? Connor discovered how his parents felt about his penchant for fights, when he found plane tickets that didn’t include him because his parents had signed unwind papers. Now think back to the last time someone outshined you. I’m sure you can think of at least one example. What if you knew that the next time you were less than excellent, your life would be over? Resa discovered how little the state orphanage valued her musical talents when its director signed unwind papers to cut costs. Feeling sympathetic yet? Please do. Like all of us, these two teenagers had their flaws and failures. Yet throughout the book, Connor figures out how to stop, think, and formulate a plan of action. As for Resa, she discovers her worth as a medic in the graveyard–a refugee camp of sorts for teenagers who had run away to escape being unwound. In other words, like all of us, they grow up. Yet unlike most of us, they grow up while on the run for their lives.
In a book that dares to tackle the battle between life and choice, you might expect to take offense. When I realized that religion was also part of the mix, in the form of Lev, I worried that Shusterman would push too strong of an agenda for my conservative values. Levi is a tithe. For those of you unfamiliar with the Biblical principle, God’s chosen people were to sacrifice the best of their livestock as a blood offering. In this science fiction parallel, God’s chosen people were to sacrifice the best of their adolescents for donor parts. Shusterman is on the top of my list of authors to follow, because he is an ethical genius. Somehow he manages to pose questions without ever becoming dictatorial or farcical or ever really taking sides. He presents the issues, leaves it up to readers to decide, but also writes a satisfying end to a disturbing tale.
Image by Trinity3Kim via Flickr
Plot, character, theme…. Shusterman has masterfully handled everything. Yes, even setting and style are perfect. He deftly pulls me into a scary future with references to pigment injections, barcodes on wristbands, retro newspapers, historical dentures, and trees with grafted branches. Because these are referred to only in passing, they never feel forced. I am amazed too at his ease in describing emotions with metaphors and thereby creating a natural yet individualistic style. Consider these examples: The lie “it was real, it was pretend, and that combination made it all right–like performing death-defying acrobatic tricks above a safety net.”; “All of his self-confidence has imploded like a dying star.”; “Each of these kids, just like every Unwind, has a story that rates a ten of the Kleenex scale.”
I don’t have room in my current library for more books, but I liked Unwind so much that it’s on my wish list for when I do. Moreover, I have been recommending it to all my reader friends–and now am recommending it to you. Unwind is a fabulous read!
My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
How would you rate this book?