Book Review: “Unwind” by Neal Shusterman

I need to remember that I LOVE good Young Adult literature. As you know, I generally won’t waste my time with books that haven’t won tons of awards. Partially because I’m a slow reader, and partially because I’m a writer. And if you’re a writer, you’re critical of everything you read. I enjoy reading and want to enjoy reading. So I have to read books that don’t make me stop and think, “Wow. I would have written that so much better.”

I can’t say anything like that about Unwind. unwind

Premise: The U.S. has a second Civil War, over reproductive rights. The answer to stop the war? Life is precious, but between ages 13 and 18 a child can be “unwound.” AKA, parents can decide to have their child’s body handed out in piecemeal. Since the entire body is used, the child doesn’t die. Problem solved!

As with any great book, the entire novel revolves around a solitary question: What if?

Shusterman’s answer turns into a twisted look at what happens to each and every human being in this journal of downward spiral. The weirdest part is that Shusterman manages to make even the most horrible person have reason for the reader’s empathy.

Many reviews suggest Shusterman doesn’t take a stand on reproductive rights, and that is somehow his saving grace in this text. I say that’s all bullocks. Shusterman does take a stance. But it’s a stance that generally isn’t very well liked. Unwind suggests that both sides are wrong. Not because their guiding principles are wrong, but because they lose sight of humanity during the “argument.” So much so that the decision to “unwind” your child seems the logical middle ground.

POV: Shusterman takes an interesting path with his choice of Point-of-View. Most YA novels are written in 1st person and usually set in present tense. Rarely do we see the YA novel written in 3rd person. Rarer still is the 3rd Person Omniscient. And this is what Shusterman chooses. That means we get everyone’s POV throughout the book. Part of this seems to follow the trend in TV shows. But I think in this case, that’s too simple an explanation. I think Shusterman knew what he was getting into when he picked the topic of reproductive rights. He needed to show the humanity (and lack thereof) of nearly everyone involved.

Overall: It’s rare that a book makes my better half and I discuss it for days. “Unwind” did this. The ingenious back stories bring every character to life in ways only massive epics tend to. Shusterman’s understanding of the human condition, human nature, and the reader only feeds into the perfection of this text. I’m actually afraid to read Book 2 since there is little chance he can continue the perfection.

The way each life is interwoven, how all the “rumors” fit together in the end, how he manages to address terrorism’s human side, social hierarchies, how he understands the priveleged youth yet also the underserved Other children like orphans and the poor, the way he picks at the socio-economic structures of U.S. culture…it all culminates in a story that I just can’t get out of my head.

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