Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Unwind by Neil Shusterman

“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.’"

The novel begins with Connor. A teen deemed troublesome by his parents and slated to be unwound. Of course, even though Connor has proven that he’s a pain to raise, it certainly doesn’t mean he’s stupid. He catches wind of his parents’ plan and runs away. He knows that if he can make it to his eighteenth birthday (still two years away) he’ll be safe. No one, not even someone who was supposed to be, can be unwound once they are eighteen.

Risa is a StaHo – or an orphan who lives at a State Home. She had several years to prove that she was worthy of her life, but only proved that she was ordinary. Not extraordinary in any way – which she needed to be in order to keep her life. She is also slated to become an unwind.

Lev is different, he’s a Tithe - raised from birth to be unwound once he reaches his thirteenth birthday. He believes that he is gifting his life to a higher purpose and his life-long religious instruction has made this a Godly endeavor for him. Lev knows he’s not an ordinary unwind, he’s special.

These three teens are inadvertently thrown together and their lives are never the same again.

This book is absolutely chilling. I think it is Shusterman’s best book to date. It was so suspenseful that I had to put it down after chapters – I was desperate to find out more, but I needed time to process everything that was going on. The book deals with the value human beings place on human life. When does life start? When is it appropriate to end a life? Just like today when the issue is filled with shades of gray, Shusterman’s envisioned future is no less foggy. He presents the choices, shows us their benefits as well as their ugly underbellies, and then steps back. An admirable, and I imagine extremely difficult, accomplishment.

What I was particularly impressed with was the author’s ability to introduce ideas and characters into the narrative and bring them up later without it feeling labored or overly obvious. The urban legend of Humphrey Dunfree is a good example. Humphrey is introduced several times and so as the book progresses the reader isn’t really expecting any revelations. But they come, boy do they come. There are also great plot twists, the characters were extremely well written and compelling, and the ending was hopeful, but not sappy or overly tidy. This book is ripe for discussion. Good stuff.

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