Recently I have just finished reading the book Unwind, a 352 page dystopian literature novel written by Neal Shusterman, who is a winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.The book had been met with very positive reviews. Unwind is the first book in the Unwind dystology. I had read this book 2 times, the first time in seventh grade. The first time I read it, I didn’t really enjoyed it and I mostly ignored stuff in the introduction about a war and a Bill of Life. The reason I read this book a second time was because I was picked to read it in our recent book clubs. The second time I read this book I enjoyed it more and I actually took time to read over the small bits of text in the beginning that talk about the war. This helped me gain a better and deeper understanding of the book than I originally had when I first read it.
The story takes place in a United States that has fought a second civil war, known as “The Heartland War.” This war was fought over abortion and reproductive rights, with the two sides being pro-life and pro-choice. After the war, a compromise was reached, and “The Bill of Life” was passed. This declared that human life was untouchable at birth, but between the ages of 13-18, parents can send their children to be unwound. This is a process in which a child is taken apart, all of his organs and vital body parts saved and kept alive for later use, such as in transplants. Using this system, it is said that life doesn’t technically end, but many people believe otherwise.
Connor Lassiter is a 16 year old living in this time period. His parents believe he has gotten into too many fights at school and signed an Unwind order. Connor, however, discovered this when looking for a stapler. He found 3 tickets to the Bahamas,(one for his mom, one for his dad, one for his brother). A little detective work reveals that Connor’s parents have sent for him to be unwound. Connor plans on leaving with his girlfriend, but when she bails out, he goes alone.
Risa Ward is a girl living in a State Home as a Ward of the state. When she becomes a victim of the state schools budget cuts, she is sent to be unwound. She boards a bus and prepares to leave.
Levi Jedediah Calder is a tithe, a child raised from birth knowing that he is going to be unwound, and people like him view entering the “divided state” a blessing. After his tithing party, Lev and his family leave for the Harvest Camp, the places where people are unwound.
Meanwhile, Connor hitches a ride with a truck driver. When Connor wakes up, he is greeted by police and his dad, who tracked Connor with tech in his phone. Connor attempts to flee, running across a busy freeway, causing multiple accidents. Connor then reaches into a car and grabs a boy, who happens to be Lev, and uses him as a human shield against the Juvey cops. In the midst of this, the bus carrying Risa crashes, giving Risa the perfect opportunity to escape. Connor, holding an unconscious Lev, meets Risa in the woods, and Connor manages to tranquil a juvey cop with his own gun.
When Lev wakes up, he pretends to be nice to Connor and Risa, while keeping an agenda of turning them in the first chance he gets.
Soon, they discover that the newspapers hadn’t printed any articles about any of them, which disheartens Lev. However, once they find a storked baby lying on a doorstep, Connor feels an urged to pick it up, due to a past experience where a storked baby became terribly sick after being neglected by every house it was dropped off at. In order to blend in, the three of them board a bus, still in possession of the baby. Once they reach the school, they hide in the bathroom. However, Lev manages to sneak out, and immediately reports Connor and Risa and tells the staff that he is a tithe. Lev then gets on the phone with a friend, Pastor Dan, only to realize that the reason their faces weren’t in the paper was because Dan made sure of it, and he tells Lev to live free. Regretting his decision to turn his friends in, Lev pulls the fire alarm.
Connor and Risa escape the school with the help of a teacher named Hannah. Hannah takes the two of them to a safe house. In the next few weeks, Connor, Risa, and many different AWOL unwinds are transported from safehouse to safehouse in an effort to stay safe until they turn 18. Lev on the other hand, had become separated from Connor and Risa, and is now of a journey with Cyrus “CyFi” Finch, to Joplin, Missouri. Cyrus had part of his brain replaced by an unwound boy, whose thoughts still sometimes control Cy’s thoughts and impulses. The portion of the other kids mind needed peace, and Lev is travelling with CyFi on his journey.
I liked the way the author was able to sum up the big events of the past, The Heartland War and the Bill of Life (things that help you to better understand the story) through character dialog and actions, rather than a long epilogue before the story. Yes, there is a page that sums up some details, but war is war, something that needs more than just a few sentences in order for the reader to understand. The book helps to insure that the reader knows about events of the past so the reader has a better understanding of the past conflict and its effects on the world.
I was surprised when the Admiral revealed he had dentures. While it sounds like a simple concept, in a world full of unwinding, dentures and old ways of medical treatment are rarely mentioned. The leadup to this scene occurs when Connor has a suspicion that the Admirals perfect teeth are the teeth of an unwound boy. When Connor has a discussion with the Admiral, he angrily brings up this point, only for the Admiral to rip out the dentures and throw them to the ground. Connor is shocked and surprised, as he didn’t know what dentures were. This prompts the question, do any of youth know what dentures are? Or have they been forgotten and lost to time thanks to the process of unwinding? I find this to be an interesting thought, that only highlights more problems in this society.
I didn’t like the way the author resolved one of the characters problems. When Lev rats Connor and Risa out but immediately regrets the decision, he pulls the fire alarm. Connor and Risa now have to escape the huge crowd outside in the school’s yard and on top of that, a police officer is suspicious of them. So they resolve the problem by… clapping their hands together. This somehow creates a mass panic, causing people to flee and allows Connor and Risa to escape. This is because clapping is the way a terrorist group, known as “clappers” blow themselves up. However, I don’t really see how clapping in a crowded courtyard could cause that huge of an interruption. I also don’t see how some of the kids were able to think of such wild rumors, as some kids thought the clapping started on the roof or in the cafeteria. Also, clappers in general are a vaguely mentioned organization that the reader doesn’t really know that much about, even by the end of the book. In the end, I kind of find it to be pure convenience.
A passage I was interested in happens on page 174. I occurs in the final hours of the flight to the graveyard. In this passage, Connor, Emby, Diego, and Hayden are having a conversation. Hayden is bringing up a ton of questions and prompting discussion, but in this scene the 4 of them are discussing when a person gets a soul. Connor is attempting to get Hayden to tell them what his opinion about all of it is.
“You always poke fun at other people’s opinions,” says Connor,”so how come you never give your own?”
“Yeah,” says Emby
“You’re always playing people for your own entertainment. Now it’s your turn. Entertain us.”
“Yeah,” says Emby
“So tell us,in The World According to Hayden, when do we start to live?”
A long silence from Hayden, and then he says quietly, uneasily,”I don’t know.”
Emby razzes him. “That’s not an answer.”
But Connor reaches out and grabs Emby’s arm, to shut him up, because Emby’s wrong. Even though Connor can’t see Hayden’s face, he can hear the truth of it in his voice. There was no hint of evasion in Hayden’s words. This was raw honesty, void of Hayden’s usual flip attitude. It was the first truly honest thing Connor had heard him say.
“Yes, it is an answer.” Connor says. “Maybe it’s the best answer of all. If more people could admit they really don’t know, maybe there never would have been a Heartland War.”
I find this to be an interesting passage because of the way Connor describes Hayden’s answer as being “truly honest.” I find the last sentence (If more people could admit they really don’t know, maybe there never would have been a Heartland War) interesting because in it, Connor is saying how human ignorance and folly lead to this war, and that brutal, absolute honesty might have been a way to prevent it. While this does sound exaggerated, it is thought provoking in terms of human error and just what it could cause down the road.
Unwind, despite some problems, is a great book overall. It is an interesting and engaging read, and it makes you interested in the events of the next books in the series. I rate Unwind 8.5 out of 10.