Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Last night I was up until 1:46am.  Why?  Because I could not put down Neal Shusterman’s creepy dystopian novel,   Unwind. My classes just finished The Giver as a read aloud and I can not wait to booktalk Unwind. tomorrow.  It’s deliciously creepy and I could not put it down.  I carried it in my purse all day, even reading on the car ride down to Easter dinner.  Due to the holiday, I didn’t get a ton of reading in, which resulted in my 2am bedtime.

Unwind is set in the future.  The second civil war took place sometime between now and then, between those who were pro-life and those who were pro-choice.  The peace treaty enacted was meant to satisfy both sides- The Bill of Life.

From The Bill of Life:

“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 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.’ “

When a teenager is unwound, the law is that every part of them must be used to help someone else.  It’s like nonconsensual organ donation at its absolute worst.  It’s better to be divided and accomplish something great than to be whole and do nothing, right?

There are three protagonists which was a brilliant writing decision on Shusterman’s part.  Connor, Risa, and Levi are all about to be unwound but for very different reasons.  The only thing they have in common is their status as unwounds, and even in that aspect they aren’t equals.  By having all three characters alternate in telling the story we get three very different viewpoints.  I found myself alternately rooting for and hating each on at different points in the story.  These aren’t perfect kids by any means.  They make stupid decisions many times and I just wanted to shake them!  But what a testament to Neal Shusterman’s character development because I felt like I knew each character and I was rooting for each one.

This is one of the most terrifying dystopian novels I have read because the society isn’t all that different from our own.  In the big picture it seems impossible, but Shusterman includes real events from the present-day as reasons for the Bill of Life.  And his reasons don’t seem over-the-top.  In fact, the sequence of events sounds eerily possible.  I found myself folding down pages and marking passages to go look up later.

This would be a phenomenal class read-aloud or book club choice.  The conversation possibilities are almost endless.  The story will disturb you and fascinate you and reader’s won’t be able to put it down.  It’s perfect for readers who have outgrown Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Shadow Children Series.

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8 Responses

  1. LOVE LOVE LOVE this book too.

  2. I loved this book and when I described it to my students, I used the word “terrifying”. Since then, five have read it, and they don’t understand why I used that word… So I’m wondering what the difference is between my understanding and their understanding of the book.

  3. I read it last week and I loved it! I stayed up late reading it. I didn’t think anything could come close to the Hunger Games, but this book is that good!

  4. I LOVE this book! While doing The Giver my 7th graders and I had a discussion about the sanctity of life. One of the kids brought up this book. She hadn’t read it, her mom had read it and told her about it. We had a great discussion!

  5. I haven’t read Unwind, but my students can’t get enough of Neal Shusterman since I read The Schwa was Here to them at the beginning of the year. He has a way of grabbing your attention right from the start. Thanks for the review!

  6. I loved this book! Once I started it, I could not put it down. I need to try some other books by Shusterman. Great review of this book!

  7. This is one I stayed up reading too! I love to book talk this one! So far, I haven’t had any students come back hating it. They all ask for more like it!

  8. What is also great about this novel is that you can’t tell what Shusterman’s position on abortion is. I actually got to sit next to him at the New Mexico Library Conference last year, and he talked about how he wanted to write a novel about abortion, but he didn’t want to be heavy handed about it or impose his beliefs on his readers. I think he did a very good job of this with Unwind.

    I’m looking forward to hearing about Bruiser, which is Shusterman’s novel to be released some time this summer.

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