Unwind by Neal Shusterman was one of the first dystopian books I ever read. However, unlike a lot of other books of the genre I’ve read since, it has stuck with me. Every once in a while, one particular line of dialogue, or scene, or subject, comes to my mind, and leaves me thinking. That’s what I look for in my dystopian science fiction; something to ponder when I’m done with it.
Unwind takes place years after a war in America between pro-life, and pro-choice, and thus being a dystopian, science fiction, book targeted at teenagers, the compromise they come to is the Bill of Life. It reads as follows:
“that human life may not be touched from the moment of conception until a child reaches the age of thirteen. However, between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, a parent may choose to 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.’ Unwinding is now a common, and accepted practice in society”.” (Shusterman, N. Unwind. pg, 1. 2007).
The story follows three teens designated for unwinding: Connor, who gets into fights at school and with his parents, Risa, a ward of the state who has been declared not talented enough to keep alive, and Levi, a Tithe, someone born and praised to be unwound in the name of religion. At the beginning of the books, they cross paths, managing to escape their fate, and become AWALs. However, if they are caught before they turn 18, they will be unwound.
Shusterman writes in the third-person limited perspective, transitioning primarily between the three main characters, though there are chapters that follow different characters every once in a while, when the story calls for it. Though there is a lot of jumping around, Neal does a great job of putting the reader in the mindset of the character that is currently being followed, and making use of their point of view. All three of the main characters bring a unique perspective on the story, as they all have backgrounds, and thus different perspectives on life as well as skills and knowledge. It is very entertaining and interesting having all of them interact with one another. Along with the character writing, I haven’t forgotten so world that he built here.
Though most Sci-fi material take place in the very distant future, with the environment possibly much more advanced than our own, Unwind does something a little different.
Wht I love about the world building in the Unwind series, is that, because society has concentrated more on medical advancement, rather than technological, most of society is pretty much as in real life. There are mentions of old music devices and movies in an antique shop, to show that, even though it is the future, it is not far enough where society doesn’t know what the technology of today is. One of my favorite descriptions of the environment that adds to the slight futuristic time period, takes place in an antique shop.’“The shop has things from perhaps every point in American history. A display of iPods and other little gadgets from his grandfather’s time cover an old chrome-rimmed dinner table. An old movie plays on an antique plasma-screen TV. The movie shows a crazy vision of a future that never came, with flying cars and a white-haired scientist” (Shusterman, N. Unwind. pg, 91. 2007). This description has stuck with me since I read the book years ago. I love how Neal manages to describe a new place, build on the world, and make a joke all in one paragraph. I also appreciate that, again, you get a vague idea of how far in the future the book takes place, without it actually giving a specific year, which makes it easier to suspend your disbelief. However, with how well the world is built up, that would be difficult not to do.
It’s not something I believe a reader should be consciously aware of when reading, but, as I’ve read this book more than once, I did. Any first-time reader will notice the real articles Shusterman placed at the beginning of part, reinforcing the subjects Unwind discusses: difficult themes, but not anything Neal isn’t used to. Themes when life begins, what happens after death, but also themes of humanity. What would people do to stay alive? How far would they go to help one another? Themes of empathy and understanding, cruelty and thoughtlessness.
There are probably themes and questions I haven’t even thought of, but if the premis intrigues you, or you’re interested in anything else about Unwind that I’ve mentioned in this review, I highly recommend picking it up in physical form, digital print or audiobook. However, I don’t advise reading the last section at night, unless you want nightmares.