Saturday, May 15, 2010

What if your parents could Unwind you?

Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster, 2007
ISBN: 978-1416912057
335 Pages

In a society where unwanted teens are salvaged for their body parts, three runaways fight the system that would "unwind" them.

Conner's parents want to be rid of him because he's a troublemaker.  Risa has no parents and is being unwound to cut orphanage costs.  Lev's unwinding has been planned since his birth, as part of his family's strict religion.  Brought together by chance and kept together by desperation, these three unlikely companions make a harrowing cross-country journey, knowing their lives hang in the balance.  If they can survive until their eighteenth birthday, they can't be harmed--but when every piece of them, from their hands to their hearts, are wanted by a world gone mad eighteen seems far far away.

In Unwind, Boston Globe/Horn Book Award winner Neal Shusterman challenges readers' ideas about life--not just where life begins, and where it ends, but what it truly means to be alive.

Note: the description is from the hardcover edition; the image and publishing information in from the paperback edition.

This is the first book I've read by Neal Shusterman and I think I need to add more to my to-read list.  Image having to live under the Bill of Life: parents can "retroactively 'abort' a child...on the condition that the child's life doesn't 'technically' end.  The process by which a child is both terminated and yet kept alive is called 'unwinding.'"

This book follows the path of a typical dystopian novel: the kids who are unwanted are on their way to "harvest camp," which is billed much like summer camp, when their paths collide and they find themselves on the run together.  What's different is that none of them start out with the desire to end the system.  It's been in place for as long as they can remember and the only goal is to survive until they legally become adults.  This is much like typical teenhood, just with the added threat of having your body parts harvested for the "greater good."  Of course there are many spine tingling twists and turns.  My favorite thing about this book is that often the readers comes to the realization of how things are going to happen either just before or along with the character.  Most of the time, I prefer to be surprised by a book than to have figured it all out before the characters.

This is another novel presented using multiple voices, but in the third person.  So the chapters on Connor are "Connor blah blah."  In some instances, I've seen this device used to tell the same event from multiple perspectives (think Vantage Point), but here the characters usually continue the story after one describes an event.  Also, when they are separated it allows the reader the opportunity to know what's going on elsewhere.  The use of multiple voices is a great way to shake up the "all-seeing narrator" trope.  It also allows for a better understanding of the individual characters when it is done well.  Here, it is done well.

None of the main characters are flat.  They each grow and learn over the course of the novel. The threat of unwinding and separation from their families and old lives works to change both Connor and Lev; they are required to find a new understanding of themselves and the world around them, plus learn their capabilities.  It's interesting the way this plays out.  Risa has a firmer understanding of the ways of the world in the beginning, but she too learns about herself and her convictions.

Although there is plenty of fear and suspense, there are some funny moments.  For instance, a scene takes place in an antique shop and Connor notices iPods and plasma TVs that were popular when his grandfather was young.  It's just an interesting moment to think that some day an iPod might be a quaint piece of junk.  Another interesting moment is in other scenes where sports are mentioned: guys still watch football on TV and talk about baseball at the office.  Even in the frightening future in which Connor, Risa, and Lev live, sports are still popular.  (And there probably much more interesting; who needs steroids when you can choose your body parts?!)

One of my favorite moments involves two secondary characters (mainly because they don't change a whole lot) but still become enmeshed in the story.  Hayden provides a message to Connor's rival; the rival assumes Hayden is on Connor's "side" to which Hayden says "I'm Switzerland: neutral as can be, and also good with chocolate."  With everything that had been going on laughing at that seems somewhat off, but also works to relieve some tension.  Nicely done.

If it isn't clear above, I enjoyed this novel.  It literally gave me the creepy crawlies at times, but even while I was writhing  I couldn't stop reading.  That to me is the mark of an incredible work.

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