UnBound is a book of short stories by Neal Shusterman, with certain stories co-authored by Michelle Knowlden, Terry Black, and Neal’s sons, Jarrod and Brendan. It is an extension of the Unwind book series and is a collection of short stories taking place at various points within its timeline: before the main books, during them, and after. Though some stories are more entertaining than others, all of them do a great job of building on the world and answering questions the fans may have had regarding it and the characters within. I think, however, that it does world-building the best: All of the stories do this to some extent, but, as a person with a disability (PWD), one of my favorites is the second story, Unfinished Symphony.
This is one of the few that takes place during the books, in this case, the second chapter of the first book, to be exact. It follows Brooklyn, another ward of State Home 23, a bough who has a bond with Risa since they were kids. She also seems jealous of Risa’s talent for the piano. However, this isn’t why I like this story. For me, it’s the disability representation that I love. Thor, a very good friend of Brooklyn, is deaf and uses “Old World Sign Language” to communicate. Because he’s a ward, no one wants to waste money buying him, or any of the other disabled wards, working body parts. This doesn’t bother Thor and the other deaf kids in the state home, though. For the most part, they are perfectly content with (what I presume to be) American Sign Language and immunity from unwinding due to their disability. I love this about this story. Having a good realistic representation of people with disabilities is an issue in science fiction and fantasy, so I’m really happy Neal took the time to show this in a story, even if it’s a side one. Another side story that I love is Unnatural Selection. Though it’s not the only story from this book that has stuck with me, it IS the only one that gave me nightmares. Similar to the last book, it has a lot of body horror, which, though it doesn’t usually get to me in movies, does do so in books, apparently, especially the way Neal writes it. I love when a story is meant to freak me out, and succeeds in doing so. That’s a sign of good writing. Along with this, the story builds on the world outside of the US, since it takes place in Thailand, a place where legal unwinding is banned and builds on what we’ve heard of the Burmese Dah Zey. This was something I wanted more of when I read the last book, so I was very happy to, as well as dreading to, see that organization again. Considering their biggest competitor is Divan and how messed up he is, you know this story isn’t going to be a happy one, like many of these stories.
Another such story, and the last one I will discuss in this review so as not to spoil all that UnBound has to offer, is UnClean. As with the other two stories, it doesn’t center around any characters we’ve met before but instead builds on the world and shows us things we would not have seen if we only followed the characters we met in the four main books. Along with this, we learn something about the process of unwinding that, though it makes complete sense when you think about it, was never brought up in the main series; unwinds with cancer or other serious illnesses cannot be unwound. We know that disabled people, such as deaf or blind people, cannot be unwound, and this story is building upon that and shows us what happens to a person who wasn’t born with and doesn’t know about their condition. We learn this through Jobe, a boy who has not lived up to his father’s standards and is designated to be unwound. While being processed into the harvest camp, it is discovered that he has cancer and is released to a local hospital, where he can receive no treatment–not that they would treat him even if he could be. All of this leads to Jobe getting involved in an unknown to him, a nefarious organization trying to end unwinding in not-so-moral ways. This isn’t the entire story, but it’s how it begins. I don’t want to spoil all of it. Otherwise, you wouldn’t need to buy the book. Though there are stories in UnBound that revolve around characters we’ve already met, I don’t want to spoil those in particular. The only exception to this rule will be, UnStrung because it is a unique story that had a direct influence on the main series, and thus I feel it deserves its own review. It is also a bit longer than the stories in this book. It was also published on its own electronically back in 2012. Also, as I had a different experience with the book than those who read it after finishing the series, I’d like to discuss how that affected my reading of the work. Regardless of the fact that I have only discussed the stories that didn’t revolve around characters we’ve met before, that does not mean that people looking for those types of stories will be disappointed. In fact, most of the ten stories found here do so. However, to my surprise, the ones that didn’t do this were my personal favorite. Neal had done such a good job developing the world that I wanted to know more about it. So, if you want to read the above stories and get to know more about the characters and world you love along the way, I highly recommend reading UnBound.