Book Review: Unwind

Published By: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: November 2007
Page Count: 335
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Audience: Young Adult - Science Fiction, Dystopian

Young adult dystopian novels are nothing new, and over the last eight to ten years there has been a huge wave of books published in the genre. If you don’t want to wade through the tide, head straight for Unwind by Neal Shusterman. The story takes place in America after the Heartland War, during the terrible peace brokered between the pro-life and pro-choice armies. The compromise that created the peace is that all human life is considered sacred until the age of 13. Between the ages of 13 and 18, parents may retroactively “abort” any child through a process called unwinding. Unwinding ensures that none of the child actually dies, but goes on to give others new organs, limbs, etc. (Think organ donation taken to the extreme.) 

I love so much about Unwind, it’s hard to know where to start gushing about it. Although I read this book several years ago, I remain intrigued by how unlike the main characters are and how well their varying motivations drive the story forward. Connor, Risa, and Lev are all bound for unwinding for wildly different reasons. Connor is the typical troubled teen whose parents signed the unwind order after too many difficulties getting Connor to control his temper. Risa, a ward of the state since birth, faces unwinding due to governmental budget cuts. Lev, on the other hand, actually wants to be unwound because he was raised to believe it was his holy duty. I don’t want to say too much else about the plot, because half the fun of this book was seeing these vastly different characters react to each other and negotiate a society that wants them dead. 

The ramifications Shusterman draws out fascinate the ex-political science nerd in me. Accepting the premise of the compromise (which, yes, is a bit over the top), he is very logical in spinning out the possible consequences. With the legalization of unwinding, the demand for unwound parts increases, and a black market develops on the side. With abortion completely unavailable to anyone, an ever-increasing number of children must be cared for by someone, so there are both enormous state ward homes and the practice of “storking” that develop. Storking is leaving your newborn on someone’s doorstep; if no one catches you in the act, the family who gets storked must keep and raise the baby. Teenagers begin to crack under the pressure of it all and become violent. Some become “clappers” and have their blood laced with shock-sensitive explosives and detonate themselves in public places to get back at the adults who have hurt them so much. The dystopia of Unwind is well thought out and provides a rich backdrop for the story itself. 

I love it when an author is capable of inflicting horrible situations and choices on his characters and allows them to make bad decisions. This is actually one of the things that really draws me into a story. Shusterman torments his characters. Seriously. Right from the beginning, Unwind sets a breakneck pace of things that go wrong for Connor, Risa, and Lev, and does not let up until the end. If you like stories with a lot going on, this is the book for you. Caveat: while most of the things that happen to these kids are not described super-graphically, there is one scene toward the end that I and several of the people I know found disturbing (though necessary to the story). 

Finally, Unwind accomplishes what all great dystopian novels should do, which is make everyone who reads it slightly uncomfortable. I never felt like Shusterman came down clearly on either the pro-choice or pro-life side in the story. In post-Heartland War America, both the pro-life and pro-choice contingents are fully responsible for what happens. Big social issues are seldom truly black and white, and even when they are, they still come with a host of other issues that need to be considered. For me, Shusterman paints a compelling portrait of the dangers inherent in acting on black and white thinking without considering the consequences.

Connor, Risa, and Lev are running for their lives.

The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child "unwound," whereby all of the child's organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn't technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state, is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.


  1. Ugh, how do you get past it's dumbass premise? Forced birth & murder is not a compromise! That's some awful forced birth nonsense. There's nothing prochoice about it, it's some paranoid, hyperbolic nonsense when you don't understand what prochoicers are fighting for.

    I totally forgot about this book, going to have to add it on a exempted shelf so I remember and can avoid it in the future. So, thanks for that! Lol

    We'll just have to disagree on this one. Cheers.

  2. I have this series on my wishlist for quite a long time but never really got round to it ..... Need to do something about that ... because i love a great dystopia and your review is convincing me to it too.

    Great Review :)
    Aparajita @Le' Grande Codex


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