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Unwind
Book
2007
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Trade Reviews

  New York Times Review

AFTER the 2004 presidential election, an amusing graphic made its way around the Internet It took the red state/blue state divide to the extreme, showing two new nations on the North American continent. Canada and most of the coastal states became the United States of Canada The heartland became Jesusland. Neal Shusterman's novel "Unwind" explores the aftermath of just such a division. In an undated future, far enough away for iPods to be sold at antique stores, the Heartland War has devastated the United States. To negotiate a peace between the Life Army and the Choice Brigade, the federal government has outlawed abortion but instituted the practice of "unwinding," or retroactive pregnancy termination. Before the age of 18, any teenager, at the discretion of a parent or guardian, can be killed and disassembled, with his or her organs going to the sick and injured. It might seem that killing a child would be as reprehensible to anti-abortion activists as abortion itself - but Shusterman draws a clever parallel to the fact that many of them support the death penalty. He's hard on the other side, too, comparing doctors' acceptance of "unwound" organs to harvesting stem cells for profit. Midway through the book, the Admiral, a haggard figure who shelters runaways marked for unwinding, explains: "On one side, people were murdering abortion doctors to protect the right to life, while on the other side people were getting pregnant just to sell their fetal tissue." Connor, a hotheaded teen whose parents are fed up with his delinquent behavior, is one of the condemned. While in transit to a "harvest camp" (a happy death camp, complete with live music), he escapes, outwits the "juvey cops" and runs into Risa and Lev. Risa has been consigned to unwinding because, at an orphanage, her piano skills were judged inadequate. Lev is the book's most fascinating character - a "tithe," the 10th child of a rich, religious family who is voluntarily offering himself for unwinding to support humanity through God's will. As Connor, Risa and Lev go on the lam, Shusterman's plot twists and prose hit the mark about half the time. For every sharp observation ("the first sign of civilization is always trash"), there is a passage where a character explains his or her emotional state to an impatient reader. What keeps "Unwind" moving are the creative and shocking details of Shusterman's kid-mining dystopia First, there are the Orwellian linguistic tricks. People who have been unwound are not "dead" - they are "in a divided state." Then there are the rules and rituals. Before being unwound, Lev is honored with a lavish "tithing party," which bears a strong resemblance to a bar mitzvah. The most terrifying scene is devoted to the unwinding itself. The author's decision to describe the process is a questionable one - a book's great unknown can leave the strongest impression on a reader - but he executes as precisely as the surgeons who perform the unwinding. Ultimately, though, the power of the novel lies in what it doesn't do: come down explicitly on one side or the other. After all, there are benefits to unwinding - children with fatal diseases can be saved by perfect transplants. And if the people of Jesusland can come to understand their countrymen in the United States of Canada - or vice versa - aren't we all better off? Ned Vizzini is the author of the young adult novels "It's Kind of a Funny Story" and "Be More Chill."

  Library Journal Review

In the not-so-distant future, everyone has an absolute right to life--unless your parents decide on the do-over option. Between your 13th and 18th birthdays, they can have you "unwound," your pieces and parts extracted and recycled for the donor market. Why It Is Great: The unwound are kept alive until the very end of the harvesting process. A single scene made this book one of the scariest reads published for teens last year. Why It Is for Us: Shusterman's exploration of good intentions gone very, very bad will resonate with adult readers frustrated by the prochoice/prolife debate. The premise falls down in a few, significant places, but the book will still reward fans of dystopian sf. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Booklist Review

Following in the footsteps of Jonathan Swift, Shusterman uncorks a Modest Proposal of his own to solve a Pro-Life/Pro-Choice dilemma. Set in a future in which abortions are outlawed but parents have the option of signing over their 13- to 17-year-olds to be used as organ donors, the tale focuses on 16-year-old Connor, who falls in with other prospective Unwinds and finds a temporary refuge (thanks to a clandestine organization with its own peculiar agenda) before being captured and sent to Happy Jack Harvest Camp. Though laced with intrigue, betrayals, and narrow squeaks, the story is propelled less by the plot (which is largely a series of long set pieces) than by an ingeniously developed cast and premise. But even readers who gravitate more to plot-driven fiction will find this present-tense page-turner thrilling, though it's guaranteed to leave some feeling decidedly queasy despite the (improbable) happy ending.--Peters, John Copyright 2007 Booklist

  Kirkus Review

Shusterman's Everlost (2006) dealt with death and children with a sense of innocence, redemption and even humor. None of that is present here. In a time not far distant, life is deemed to be sacrosanct from the instant of conception until the age of 13. From 13 to 18, however, parents and guardians have the opportunity to have children "unwound." Technically, life doesn't end, but every part of the child is "harvested" to be parceled out and passed on to the highest bidder. In this gruesome age of organ harvest, readers meet Connor (doomed to be unwound by his parents), Risa (doomed as a ward of the state due to overcrowding) and Lev, a tithe, conceived for the express purpose of being unwound and "donated" to society. Their story of escape and struggle to survive in a society that lauds itself on the protection of life, but which has reduced human body parts to market commodities, unrolls against a bleak background of indifference, avarice, guilt, regret, loss, pain and rebellion. Well-written, this draws the reader into a world that is both familiar and strangely foreign, and generates feelings of horror, disturbance, disgust and fear. As with classics such as 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, one can only hope that this vision of the future never becomes reality. (Science fiction. YA) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Summary
In a society where unwanted teens are salvaged for their body parts, three runaways fight the system that would "unwind" them <br> <br> Connor'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.<br> <br> 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.
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