Unwind by Neal Shusterman

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Unwind by Neal Shusterman

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A powerful, shocking, and intelligent novel about a future which practises retroactive abortion on troublesome teenagers, then uses their body parts for transplant. It's wonderful, wonderful stuff - but sensitive readers may be troubled by a shocking description of the process.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: August 2008
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1847382312

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Pro-lifers and pro-choicers fought the Heartland War. Thousands died. If human beings killing one another over the definition of life itself were not horrific and ludicrous enough, the negotiated peace takes things one step further. Under the Bill of Life, all pregnancies must be brought to term. However, when a child reaches thirteen, its parents can decide on a retroactive "abortion". This is called unwinding - because each and every body part (well, 99.4% to be exact) is used in transplantation surgery.

Children are unwound for very different reasons. Connor is a rebellious child and his parents can't cope with him any more, so they sign the order. Risa is an orphan and state ward, but money is running out at the home, so her social workers sign the order. Lev, poor Lev, is the tenth child of a very religious household and his parents are tithing him as a tribute to God, so they sign the order.

Connor, Risa and Lev end up on the run together as AWOLs. If they can survive until they are eighteen, the law says they can no longer be unwound. There's an underground network to help them, but the Juve cops are also on their tail.

Despite the perhaps unlikely - but in this world of creationists who believe Earth is six thousand years old and intelligent designers who think woolly imaginings are part of a science lesson, perhaps not so unlikely - premise, Unwind hooked me, reeled me in, and left me unable to put it down right from its very first chapter. Imagine such a world. Imagine people like Connor, sentenced for retroactive abortion because of some teenage rebellion. Imagine people like Risa, sentenced because she made a few mistakes at a piano recital. Imagine people like Lev, who truly believe their unwinding is a beautiful sacrifice. And then, and then... imagine people like CyFi, given part of somebody else's brain, and feeling their emotions so strongly that it leads to a mental collapse. If there isn't compelling dramatic conflict in that, then I don't know where you could find it.

It's cleverly plotted too, with some inevitable tragedies, but some equally inevitable heroics. The writing is clear and lucid and sprinkled with some very creepy doublespeak - Unwinds don't die, they continue to live, but in a "divided state". And in this future dystopia, terrorism is still a threat. It's not the Islamist suicide bombers people fear any more though, it's the Clappers. Clappers transfuse explosives into their bloodstream and simply clap to detonate themselves.

It's the perfect book for family and classroom debate - it's gripping, it's thought-provoking and it's intelligently written. There is one scene in which the unwinding process is described in detail and it will shock. It perhaps puts the book out of reach of the sensitive reader and perhaps even sophisticated primary school readers - even I am not sure that I would want to read it again. This aside, I can't recommend Unwind highly enough. Read it and weep. Then think on.

My thanks to the nice people at Simon & Schuster for sending the book. We do have a review of the sequel.

If they enjoyed Unwind, they might also enjoy Generation Dead by Daniel Waters. We can also recommend Timedance 1: Neptune's Tears by Susan Waggoner.

Booklists.jpg Unwind by Neal Shusterman is in the Top Ten Dystopian Books For Children.

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Buy Unwind by Neal Shusterman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Unwind by Neal Shusterman at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Unwind by Neal Shusterman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Unwind by Neal Shusterman at Amazon.com.


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Nigethan Sathiyalingam said:

I remember reading the blurb for Unwind, but then dismissing it because the concept just seemed so outlandish.

Then I read Neal Shusterman's remarkable Skinjacker Trilogy, and realised that I should give Unwind a chance.

It was definitely worth it! The future dystopia is brought to life by the author's creativity, and once I got into the book, it didn't seem outlandish at all. Rather, it had me thinking hard about some very thought-provoking concepts.

I was surprised to learn, today, that a sequel to Unwind is being released at the end of the month. The story was concluded so well, that it didn't really cross my mind that it would have a sequel! I can't wait to see what Shusterman comes up with – he has yet to disappoint me.

Looking forward to hearing your opinion on the sequel once you've read it.

Jill said:

OOH! I didn't know there was going to be another one! That is truly a brilliant book.