Literature Thursdays: Unwind

(Note: I’m currently out of the country, so I’ve composed some blog drafts and will publish them when I happen to have wi-fi. I’ll be back at the end of July!)



Prepare yourselves, readers! Today I’ll be discussing another YA novel. Just a warning, it’s my favorite genre, and it’s summer, so I’ll be getting my fix before I’m forced back to Coleridge and Milton for the fall.

Today, I’ll be discussing Neal Shusterman’s Unwind, a book that recently gained a number of new followers. Also, with all the recent abortion debate going on, this is a powerful read that will provoke both sides of the issue to sit back and think on the consequences that may result if this debate intensifies.

Shusterman paints a post-war United States that has picked up the pieces after its Second Civil War that was fought over the issue of abortion. A compromise in the form of the Bill of Life results in deeming human life as absolute until the age of thirteen. If a child is unwanted, too troublesome, or if the government cannot afford to care for so many wards, the bill provides two ultimatums:

  1. Storking: Abortions are no longer legal, so mothers are permitted to abandon their newborns on the doorstep of any home they choose. The family in that home is required to take the baby in and care for it as their own.
  2. Unwinding: When a child reaches the age of 13, they qualify for a procedure called “Unwinding.” If a parent or guardian believes the child proves to have no potential in society, or a state is trying to care for too many wards, they are allowed to surrender the child to the government. Afterwards, the child will be sent to a harvest camp, where they will undergo a surgery that will collect nearly 100% of their body and donate it to people who need corrective procedures (blood transfusions, prosthetic arms, spinal cords, heart transplants, etc.) This way, the child is successfully done away with yet technically still alive through the recipients.

There are extremely religious families who believe in a life of tithing. Money, food, and children all qualify. These families strive to have a tenth child that may be given to the government and unwound on their thirteenth birthday as a sort of duty to the country.

The novel is told through varying perspectives, but the main three are

  • Connor Lassiter, a rebellious 16 year-old who discovers that his parents plan to unwind him on the day they escape to the Bahamas. Connor refuses to give in so easily and runs away.
  • Risa Ward is a 15 year-old orphan and ward of the state. She has just given the piano performance of her life… literally. She knows that this concert will determine whether or not she is fit to live and join society, but she makes five mistakes during her Sonata. The bad news she expects is immediately delivered to her, and she finds herself on a bus bound for the nearest harvest camp.
  • Lev Calder, the tenth child of the Calder family, is turning thirteen, and his parents throw him a tithing party before he embarks on the journey to fulfill his duty. He is peaceful about the future, thanks to guidance from his pastor, yet his older brother disrupts the party by expressing his dismay and anger over unwinding. Nevertheless, Lev is as willing as a lamb to the slaughter (an appropriate metaphor, since he is dressed in all white for the occasion.)

Call it fate, destiny, whatever, but these three paths cross in an instant of chaos, panic, and split-second thinking, and the three teens find themselves on a terrifying, fast-paced road to escape, freedom, and life. The adventure, however, does not end well for some as they find themselves being escorted into the operation room…

This terrible, horrible book had me up at 2am sobbing and unable to sleep. I was terrified and happy and mournful all at once, but mostly terrified.

Yes, unwinding is a fictional procedure. However, I believe this book scares me so much because the concept was created by a human mind. Who’s to say this idea won’t pop into someone else’s head, and the world perceives it as a brilliant compromise?

No matter if you’re pro-choice or pro-life, I believe anyone who wants perspective on the issue should read this series. The second installment, UnWholly, was just released (and I’ll be reading during my plane rides), and UnSouled, the conclusion, will be released in October 2013.

Meanwhile, check out this video for a fan-made trailer for the book. I almost couldn’t finish it!

Until then!


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