Allison's Book Bag

QUICK TAKE: Unwholly by Neal Shusterman

Posted on: September 17, 2013

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. Abortion was made illegal, but parents were given the option to “unwind” their teenagers and sell their bodies for parts. You have just entered the horrifying world of Neal Shusterman’s dystopian quartet. Today I’m reviewing the second book in the set, Unwholly, about which my reaction is mixed.

At first, my feelings slid more towards the negative. Of course I was eager to reconnect with the characters of Unwind. How would Connor fare as the leader of the Graveyard, a safe haven for teens marked to be unwound? How will Risa handle being paralyzed from the waist down after the attack on Happy Jack Harvest Camp? How will Lev deal with his newfound hero status, which he received when he refused to become a “clapper” (suicide bomber)? But instead of these familiar characters, Unwholly introduces me to Starkey, Miracolina, and Cam–a whole new cast of characters! Of course this is okay, but it’s just not what I was hoping for.

Not that these new characters don’t have potential. Miracolina, like Lev, is a tither–one who has been predestined since birth to be unwound.  And Cam, is a composite of several unwound teenagers, who is intended to represent the perfect human being. These new faces, plus many more I haven’t mentioned, make for a huge cast. This is nothing new for Shusterman, who played the same juggling game in Unwind. The problem is that I didn’t initially care for any of the new characters. Yes, being slated to be unwound would probably make anyone a tad bitter; but Starkey, with his power-obsessed “corporate” soul, is simply not likable. I couldn’t wait for Shusterman to switch to the viewpoint of another character, but Miracolina and Cam weren’t particularly better.

My last complaint is that the first half of Unwholly felt weighted down with politics. Fans of The Hunger Games Trilogy might compare the moments when Katniss is with family or in the arena to those when she’s in the capitol. Indeed, at times, especially when Risa is being forced to work for an organization called Proactive Citizenry, it felt as if I were reading the more nauseating parts of The Hunger Games Trilogy again.

Now that I have seemingly trashed Unwholly, let me step back and tell you that ultimately I enjoyed it. Eventually, Connor is reintroduced and is portrayed as sympathetically as a teenager who, having been prematurely saddled with the responsibility of leadership, wishes more than anything to live a normal life. For The Hunger Games Trilogy fans who were disappointed when Katniss became semi-comatose in Mockingjay, you’ll be happy to know that Connor remains very much at the forefront of the plot. Risa also returns and faces tough choices, when she’s forced to choose between violating her ethics and saving her friends. She’s also the reason that we see a different side to Cam, who at first she was inclined to hate. And Lev struggles with his conscience when he rescues a tither, who turns out to believe much more strongly in that position than him.

As for the rest of the cast, you already know I didn’t initially care for many of the newcomers. As the story progressed, most of them grew on me. Through Miracolina, Shusterman helps us remember that some people really do have the strength of their convictions, even to the point of being willing to die for their faith, and he raises the question of whether we have the right to interfere. Through Cam, Shusterman points out that sometimes we can’t do anything about our background, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something to make the world a better place.

But not every character has a warm and fuzzy side. Shusterman gives his readers one character who they will love to hate–a “parts-pirate” (one who deals illegally in human body parts) who approaches the level of the best horror movie villains. There is no third dimension to this character. There’s no sob story that explains why he is the way he is. He’s evil, and we are free to loathe him with wild abandon.

As the characters of Unwholly started to pull me into, I also began to better enjoy immersing myself into their world and so, although Unwholly doesn’t completely live up to my expectations, I like it well enough to be happy that I own it. I’m also still eagerly awaiting the sequels, one of which will be released in October and the other next summer.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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