Collaborative Letter Essay #9: Unwind

Dear Classmates,

Recently we finished reading ‘Unwind’, a 335 page dystopian fiction novel by Neal Shusterman. Shusterman is an American writer of young-adult fiction and won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for Challenger Deep. He has also published more than thirty award-winning novels for adults, teens, and children. Unwind was published on November 6, 2007 and has won 25 awards in the past years of its publishing, ranging from all 50 states. The book has racked up much attention by various reviewers and many websites. We requested to read Unwind because we have heard many great things about it from a video we watched in class. All four of us were intrigued by the plot of this novel compelling the idea of how a “perfect” world could, and would be shattered.

In the novel Unwind, it tells the story of a futuristic world, in which they have reached a peaceful conclusion. After the ‘Heartland War’, a war that was fought over abortion rights, the government decided that parents of disruptive children, from ages 13-18, have the option to ‘unwind’ their child(ren). The unwinding benefits those who are worthy to live a life without complications. There is a perfected procedure in which they can ‘harvest’ the child’s organs and graft them to another living person. This is supposed to save lives, and eliminate the fight over abortion, but the children sent to be unwound aren’t quick to comply. The society isn’t prepared to handle the ‘unwinds’ who rebel against the government’s rules and beliefs; like when 16-year-old Connor Lassiter meets Risa Ward and joins her in a journey to save themselves from the brutal unwinding. They’re accompanied by Lev, a tithe, who believes that unwinding is a highly honored and respectable action, based on his family’s religious beliefs. Together Connor and Risa learn that they aren’t the only ones trying to save their lives; there are hundreds of others trying to live until age eighteen and gain freedom. All the while Lev continues to find himself, desperate to hold his place in a world he thought he understood. Soon they join other unwinds to start the rebellion of the century, in order to save the innocent lives of troubled, yet unaccepted, and unloved children all around the nation.

The character development in Unwind is mainly focused on two main characters; Lev and Connor. Lev was a tithe from birth, therefore he had to believe exactly what his parents told him when he was born. He grew up thinking that there was something special about him, and that God believed he was to be unwound. That meant he was highly honorable. He assumed that this was true of course until he met Connor and Risa, the two unwinds that follow him in this novel. On page 42, Lev has just been taken by Connor and Risa. He fears what they will do to him, but he knows he has more power. He will not let them keep him from getting unwound. On page 76, Lev has just escaped and ran away from Connor and Risa. This is what he is waiting to do. Even though he thinks this is the right thing to do, this starts to change him as a character. Throughout this chapter, he gets separated from Connor and Risa after trying to apologize to them. He feels that his actions in turning them in were wrong. On page 121, Lev meets Cy-Fi, a boy who shows him life as an Unwind in a new light. His perspective is changed as he learns to fend for himself and his need for unwinding is completely dissolved. He is no longer the same boy at his tithing party, and he is determined to fight for his life. Finally on page 208, Lev reunites with Risa and Connor. Lev is a whole new person from the day that Connor first “captured” him. He is stronger, smarter, and has his own opinions now that his family isn’t there to tell him what to believe. Connor comes from a different path of unwinding. Everyone sees unwinding from a scary point of view, except for of course tithes and other people with their various reasons. Unwinds are usually not told this is soon to happen to them, until a bus leading to a harvest camp retrieves all the kids. Connor though as the rebellious teenager he is, finds documents in his father’s office, more specifically known as an Unwind order. Connor refuses for that to be his fate and without a clear plan or much supplies, he runs away. Connor is proving himself to be reckless and thoughtless when he decides to do this. Especially with the various consequences that await those type of decisions made by other unwinds as well. Planning for his girlfriend to join him, she declines last minute and he is left to prosper on his own. He accompanies a trucker he finds on his journey away from home to stay with the night. Sadly, his parents call the police and tracked his phone, ruining his plans to run away. Connor takes off, running from the police and through a highway nearby. Throughout the rest of the book, Connor understands that him rushing into things and not thinking out what he plans to do can hurt him in the end. His knowledge is then exemplified when he takes initiative in the end of the story when a collection of Unwinds begin to follow the word of a Unwind up to no good. The Unwinds threaten their survival and safety, but Connor throws out the truth he has finally pieced together after gathering information. This allows for him to take lead in the situation that has been formed and save anybody from getting hurt or regretting doing something. Risa is the character that changed the least throughout Unwind. She stayed the same person inside, but she became smarter and stronger from the Graveyard and most importantly, from Lev and Connor. Risa helped Connor to be more at peace with himself. He constantly finds himself hearing her voice telling him to take things slow and scan his options. Like on page 212, when Connor wants to run away from the Admiral, but he hears Risa’s voice telling him not to, or when Lev volunteers to leave the Graveyard, Risa tries to talk him out of it. Although Risa changed the least throughout Unwind, she had the greatest part in changing and affecting the others. The book ‘Unwind’, is structured so that each chapter changes perspective.  Starting off with Connor telling his story it then transitions to Risa’s point of view, then to Lev. We really like how the perspective changed because it shows how all three characters feel about one situation. For example, on page 62, Connor notices a baby ‘storked’ on somebody’s porch. Connor felt the immediate urge to rescue the baby because of past experiences. Although he ended up getting caught and was then responsible for the baby. “Connor feels as broken as he did the moment he found out his parents signed the order to unwind him”, page 64. Further down on that page the perspective then changes and shows how Risa feels about the situation. “She can’t even begin to guess what possessed Connor. Now that Risa realizes he doesn’t just make bad decisions, he makes dangerous ones too.” Without the transitions in point of view we wouldn’t truly know everyone’s direct feelings. We understand why the author would include Roland’s unwinding in the book. The whole story is about this ‘Unwinding’ but you only get small details about the true horrors of what happens. The way Neal Shusterman writes the procedure is angering and heartbreaking. He includes all of Rolands thoughts, down to the last moments of his ‘life’. On page 294 you read Roland’s last moments: “I…Hypothalamus. I…Hippocampus. Medulla. ……….” Although this part was upsetting it was extremely well written and benefitted the story.

One of our favorite parts of the book was on the last page (335), Connor is standing in the graveyard, watching the Unwinds. “Connor takes it all in-the music, the voices, the desert, and the sky. He has his work cut out for him, changing the world and all, but things are already in motion; all he has to do is keep up the momentum. And he doesn’t have to do it alone. He has Risa, Hayden, and every Unwind here. Connor takes a deep breath and releases it along with his tension. At last, he allows himself the wonderful luxury of hope.” It seemed fitting to finish the story with Connor’s thoughts. Without Connor, Risa and Lev would’ve been unwound, and the rebellion of the Unwinds wouldn’t even be an idea, let alone an action. We really enjoyed this passage and the closure it brought, yet it still foreshadowed that Connor’s work was far from over. The author did a good job of wrapping up loose ties, but still leaving the question of ‘what’s next?’.

We thoroughly enjoyed reading ‘Unwind’ by Neal Shusterman and would recommend it to anyone seeking a powerful dystopian novel. We rate this book a 8/10. There was only a few parts that left us unsatisfied; we wish the author had elaborated more on the past of the characters, and gave us the answers instead of leaving us to render up our own conclusions. So, with this said, we are interested in continuing the series, and reading the next 5 books following Connor, Lev, Risa, and other unwinds on their perilous journey.  



Morgan Wheatley, Addisen Westphalen,

Ellie Stenzel, and Molly Luckart

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