Unwind by Neal Shusterman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What an interesting book… I had a hard time rating this book. I’d really give it a 3.5 because I enjoyed the book enough to actually be crazy enough to pick up the next book, but at the same time I really only enjoyed the book for it’s analytical value and not it’s entertainment value.  Does that make sense? I read this book as a writer and not a reader. Any book I can read as a reader first always deserves a 4 in my opinion and if the book is so amazing that I have to share it with all my friends then it deserves a 5. But this book didn’t take me to either one of those places. I found myself often thinking about the way the story was crafted, what the characters sounds like, why is one scene working over another. So, this is a popular book worth analyzing.

To be honest, the biggest hurtle for me in reading this book was accepting its premise. In this dystopian future a second civil war has been fought in the United States; a physical war over abortion (though it’s not exactly stated in this way — that’s pretty much what the war was fought over). To end the war constitutional laws are passed referred to as the Bill of Life. The Bill of Life makes it illegal to have an abortion (all life conceived must be brought to term), it makes it so that if some one leaves a newborn baby on your doorstep you are legally bound to take responsibility for that baby, and it makes it legal for any child between the ages of 13 and 18 to be unwound. What does that mean, you ask? Basically it means that the child can be used as an organ donor. Unwinding is when the child is cut into pieces and every bit of their body is sold to the highest bidder: blood, hands, eyes, spinal cord, hipocamup, cerebellum, stomach, you name it — every single part of the child. The idea is that if every single cell of the child is used in organ donation they aren’t really dead, they are legally considered “alive.”

Yeah… Even if I was thirteen years old reading this book, this would not be a very believable premise for me. As F*$@#$ as this world can be, and trust me I can get pretty jaded about the world we live in, I can’t imagine anyone actually passing laws like that.

There are people who say that the premise of this series was easier to accept than The Hunger Games and I totally disagree. In the Hunger Games you understand that the brutality of the games is due to governmental revenge and control, where as the premise of Unwind is based on a group of politicians, heartless ones apparently, in a room who “decide” that selling children for organ donation is a good idea. Anyway…

Once I told myself to get over the unbelievability of the premise (Reminder: this is supposed to be a dystopian future), I decided that there are two good things about this premise. 1. I automatically sympathies with the protagonists no matter how much I may dislike any of them because I would have certainly become a runaway Unwind if my parents were stupid enough to sell me off for parts. 2. The premise adds to the “horror” factor of the story. I mean come on! Imagine being sold off for your body parts. And trust me there are some pretty horrifying scenes in this book. I’m sure there should be a third reason, like the author was trying to be metaphorical about how cynical and dark the world we live in now can be, but if that’s the case — yeah, totally over my head.

Over all the writing was good. Not great, but good. I felt that the three main characters were pretty believable and rather likable; though I feel that the two male leads had bigger character arcs than the female lead. It intrigued me to see how many view points were used to tell the story. I can see a lot of potential in future stories for these characters and how they intent to “thwart the system.”
The story was well paced and did keep you guessing in some ways. Is this or that person trustworthy. Who are these Clapper people? Does this person what a part of the protagonists, literally? Is the protagonist going to die?

The other part of the story I found most interesting was the concept of the donees receiving memories from the donors. This is certainly a phenomenon that has been scientifically documented. It’s actually one of the reasons a lot of religious people don’t become organ donors – they believe that the soul is in ever part of the body and if you cut it into pieces you are ripping the soul apart too. So I’m sure that’s a cool concept if you’ve never thought about it before.

The story felt crafted to me, but that was all right because it worked. All the right information was told when it was supposed to be. I still don’t accept the explanation of the premise, but I’ll just accept that as my problem and not the author’s.

If you want to read something on the more psychological horror side this is probably the book for you.

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