I thought I would take a break from the Slushies today and instead tell about a book I read at the end of last month. Ladies and Gentlemen, readers of all ages over 11, let me introduce you to Neal Shusterman’s Unwind. Now, the astute ones among you will have remembered that just yesterday I awarded this little literature gem the impossibly long titled Thought Provoking . . . Young Adult Fiction Slushie. And I do find this book to be extremely thought provoking. I heard Neal Shusterman speak while he was in town for the Texas Book Festival. He was explaining how both vehement Right to Lifers and just as hard-line Right to Choicers have both praised his book. Any book that can promote dialog between such disparate groups is worth a read.
What follows in this post is an article I wrote about the book for the cover of Bookpeople’s January Newsletter. Although longer than the average blog post/review, I think it better explains why I like this book so much. So, go to your local (preferably independent) kiddie-lit store and grab a copy. It’s worth the read.
Unwindwith our Top Shelf pick for January
Despite no empirical evidence proving its existence, nearly all people believe in the soul. It’s our central core, our consciousness; the thing that defines who we are. But when do we receive our soul? When does it cease to be a part of our existence? When are we truly alive, and when do we actually die?
The characters in Unwind by Neal Shusterman believe they have found an answer to these questions. They live in a near future that has survived a second American civil war fought exclusively over the issue of abortion. The war is ended not by a clear victory by one side, but by a mutually acceptable compromise. No child may be harmed from the age of conception through the age of thirteen. However at any point between a child’s thirteenth and eighteenth birthday, a legal guardian may choose to “retroactively abort” a child by donating them for organ harvesting, a process known as unwinding. Since nearly one hundred percent of the child is transplanted, the child is still considered to be alive but existing in a divided state. Since unwanted children are in plentiful supply, organ transplantation becomes an important industry in America. Ensuring that Unwinds, or children marked for organ harvesting, receive their procedures is a priority in this world.
Connor, Risa, and Lev are three teens who manage to runaway or escape before they can be unwound. Connor is a problem teen whose parents no longer feel they can manage him. Risa is the unfortunate victim of budget cuts at her state orphanage. Lev, however, is a tithe. His parents belong to one of many religions that believe in sacrificing at least one of their children to unwinding so that they may benefit the world in their divided state. Lev has been raised since birth to expect unwinding soon after his thirteenth birthday. Unlike Connor and Risa, Lev looks forward to his unwinding as the great purpose of his life. He has trouble abandoning his purpose and adjusting his world view.
Like Lev and the other Unwinds, Shusterman forces the readers to question their world views as well. Throughout the novel, Shusterman and his characters ask the difficult questions about life, death, and what makes us who we are. The characters never provide us with a definitive answer. Instead, they debate the issues from all sides illustrating just how complex these subjects really are. Shusterman never reveals his personal opinion on the matter or tries to impose a particular view point on the readers. His willingness to present balanced arguments for both sides of the debate makes it clear that readers should decide these issues for themselves.
In the end, readers are left optimistic about the Unwinds and the world they live in. Connor, Risa, and Lev have been able to make the people of their world rethink their own ideas on life and death. Regardless of a person’s own views on this subject, this is an enjoyable, thought-provoking book for any reader.