Review: Unwind

Book Title: Unwind
Author: Neal Shusterman
Reviewed By: Chelsea
Series: Unwind #1
Genres: YA, Dystopian, Science Fiction

Date Read: 03/13/17
Pub Date (Reissue): 06/02/09


In America after the Second Civil War, the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life armies came to an agreement: The Bill of Life states that human life may not be touched from the moment of conception until a child reaches the age of thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, a parent may choose to retroactively get rid of a child through a process called “unwinding.” Unwinding ensures that the child’s life doesn’t “technically” end by transplanting all the organs in the child’s body to various recipients. Now a common and accepted practice in society, troublesome or unwanted teens are able to easily be unwound.

I’ve been letting this book process in my mind for many days now and I still don’t know where to start. This is an older book, one that has been held in highest regards by many for almost a decade now, so whenever I read a book like this I feel awkward and useless writing a review. What could I possibly say to do this book justice that hasn’t been said yet? I’m not even sure there are words to describe just how undone this book made me feel. It’s rare that I find myself emotionally involved in a book these days; I mainly read mystery/thrillers or YA sci-fi/fantasy and neither of those genres tend to hold deep, moving stories of this kind. The only way I know to describe how this book made me feel is that it wormed it’s way so deep inside my body that it touched my soul. My brain felt so jumbled it didn’t know whether I should cry, vomit, or give a standing ovation, so it just kind of snorted. If you read the tiny blurb above then you know that there isn’t much given away of what this book really is, other than touching on the fact that it’s premise is truly horrifying. While I’m not planning on giving away any major spoilers or plot points, if you’re wanting to go in completely blind, I recommend stopping right here and grabbing the book. If you are wanting to get a little more of a feel of what this is before you dive in, keep reading on.

” The Bill of Life”

The Second Civil War, also known as “The Heartland War,” was a long and bloody conflict fought over a single issue.

To end the war, a set of constitutional amendments known as “The Bill of Life” was passed.

It satisfied both the Pro-life and the Pro-choice armies.

The Bill of Life states 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.

 Wow. It’s a little hard to swallow, yes? When I initially saw this page I thought “Geez, a little dramatic. I’m not sure how he’s going to make this seem realistic, but I’ll follow along and keep an open mind.” He made it realistic people. When I think of how utterly disturbing an “unwinding” would be, I found myself riddled with all types of questions. What happens in an unwinding? Will we be privy to a procedure? Is this going to be highly graphic and full of blood and guts? How is this being marketed as a YA novel? This book is recommended for ages 12 & up. Here’s what I found out after reading this book; yes, we find out what happens specifically in an unwinding and are privy to one, but just one, and it is highly disturbing in the most subtle way. What surprised me the most though was the lack of graphic violence (aside from one major scene near the end). The reason this book is so utterly brilliant is due to the fact that the author has left most of the highly disturbing factors vague; he knew for each reader, what would move us the most, would be different and has given us the opportunity to let our imagination carry us where he couldn’t take us with too much structure and detail.

“I was never going to amount to much anyway, but now, statistically speaking, there’s a better chance that some part of me will go on to greatness somewhere in the world. I’d rather be partly great than entirely useless.”
-Samson Ward

 This book is structured so well; it has all the elements of a complex, highly intelligent read while also being written in a way that is easy for anyone to connect with and understand. The story is divided into seven parts, each told from multiple views, but mainly from three. Connor is a trouble maker from Akron, OH that becomes AWOL while running away from his impending unwinding. Risa is a ward of the state and is set to be unwound due to the lack of space in the institutions housing orphans. She is a musician but not deemed talented enough to be considered cost effective in keeping around. Lev is a tithe; these are children conceived and raised specifically to be unwound once they reach the age of thirteen. These three lines converge at a specific event and begin what I like to consider the first part of our journey. I won’t give away anything else, but we ride lots of ups and downs with these folks. The ending was satisfying in the sense that it clearly is left with the assumption of a series following, but there isn’t a giant cliff hanger where you feel pressured to pick up the next book immediately. In fact, I’ve seen most people choose to read this as a standalone and not continue on. Either way, this is a book that is worth your time; it’s far from your typical, sometimes flimsy YA novel. There was actually a good bit of “real life” research that went into this story; Shusterman found various news articles surrounding stem cell research that helped form a base for his fictional story to be crafted around. I know this because I took the time to look up each link he provided and, by George, they are real! And horrifying!

 “You can’t change laws without first changing human nature.”
-Nurse Greta

“You can’t change human nature without first changing the law.”
-Nurse Yvonne

Words can’t convey how important this novel is. Yes, it’s highly disturbing, horrifying, and a place our mind doesn’t even want to venture to, but this book touched on so many issues in our current state of affairs world wide and is surprisingly still relevant after nearly ten years. Stem Cell Research, Cellular Memory, Reproductive Rights, the afterlife, faith, and morals; it’s all discussed in this book. I found myself constantly pondering all of the above and how it relates to humanity. As a parent, this was a hard book to stomach. It brought an all-too-real sense of terror over me that I couldn’t shake, and still haven’t. The Roland scene was one where I had to put the book down, wipe the tears from my eyes, and process before I could continue on to finish. The reason this book can even have the potential of being beloved by so many is this: amidst all the horror and unspeakable evil the plot is founded on, there is a constant glimmer of hope in the horizon. It’s a beautiful thing folks. Change. Community. Forgiveness. It’s all there, and that’s why I’m going to recommend this book to literally everyone I come in contact with. I could ramble on for weeks about this book, but I think it would be better if you just read it for yourself. I’m also planning on continuing the series, so I’ll try to provide insight into whether or not it’s worth investing in the long haul or just soaking up this treasure by itself.

*I’d like to thank The Literary Box for providing my copy; it was an absolute pleasure to return an honest review.

*In case you missed it, you can find my full review and unboxing of the subscription this book was included in HERE!

24 thoughts on “Review: Unwind”

  1. This is easily one of my fave books. I read this in 2009, I think, and finished the series last year. This opened up my world to dystopian novels. and I love the construction of the world. Shusterman is my fave author and I love his character development and writing (always thought provoking!!)!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow – it’s some premise, but I admit I can’t possibly see parents (or even non-parents) ever allowing it to happen, so I fear the whole credibility thing would be too much of a wall for me. I’m glad to have read your review though – thought-provoking in itself!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand and thank you for reading my review! I think for me, it was more an envisioning my worst nightmares in a more extreme form. It was allegorical for other things and I think wasn’t meant to be credible, if that makes sense. It was more meant to be thought provoking and as it’s YA fiction, I think his intention was to write something so outlandish to grab their attention as the demographic. I think the fact that I’m still in that “in between” demographic helped me to connect better to the story as well. I had my kids young, so I’m a parent and can understand the feelings and emotions behind this side that lead me to the knowledge that this will never actually happen in society. However, I’m also only 26, and still close enough to remember how as a teenager with emotions I was dramatic and selfish and probably could have bought into this premise 😂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I think the age we are often influences how we feel about a book, so it sounds as if the author has done a great job of targeting the age-group he was aiming at…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. When I first read the description I thought that it sounded far-fetched so I’m interested in how he has made it seem real. I just don’t see unwinding as a possibility in my head. I may have to check the book out though to see how it’s done…library here I come!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s definitely not realistic in the sense that people are in the mindset to comply with that now. I think it’s more realistic in the sense that it’s allegorical of many other things we’ve become comfortable with in our world that people 100 years ago never would have fathomed. Showing the progression of society and such as a herd mentality. He did however make it a compelling read and made it feel “real” in the book. I think I truly loved how this book didn’t have a political agenda, it was just a good ole “good versus evil” showdown in a fictional, alternative role.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so glad ppl are reading this book! It’s awesome! It’s one of my all-time faves.
    There’s a YouTube video on Schusterman’s Goodreads that is powerful! You need to see it. There’s a chick being unwound!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh I can’t wait! Beginning shot is close up of a blonde girl with blue eyes’ face. If you can’t find it, I’ll dig the link out.
        I used this book for my lesson plan assignment and I played the video for my class: they were freaked out lol!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Ugh, I absolutely loved this book (and this series as a whole, really). It’s all just so good! I highly recommend going on with the series; I found all the books really good and the finale destroyed me. 😭

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Strange how differently we respond. I thought it one of the worst books ever – so bad I wouldn’t put it even on the DNF shelf. Not only was it impossible to believe parents would have children they love “unwound,” but the author’s relentless use of the historic present tense & his semiliterate vocabulary (teenagers are always “kids” in his idiom). Please don’t say I didn’t enjoy it because I’m too old- I loved Divergent- it’s that Shusterman cannot write.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah yes, now I could definitely see that as a problem. Glad you clarified with the audio for me! I have a few in my stack that I’ll be reading soon that you’ve read awhile back, so I’m hoping we can compare notes on those soon Bill.


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