November 2007 by Simon & Schuster
Connor, Risa, and Lev are running for their lives.
The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child "unwound," whereby all of the child's organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn't technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.
I have heard a ridiculous number of good things about Neal Shusterman and this series in particular. A friend was awesome enough to let me borrow it, so I finally got to read it. I may have built the book up too much in my mind, but I still liked it.
Unwind is written in first-person in present tense. I think this is the first book I've ever read in present tense. It was a little weird at first and took a while to get used to, but it gave an immediacy to the plot: we're right there with the characters instead of watching from the sidelines looking back like we usually do. And the unusual tense makes Shusterman's book stand apart.
The book is split between the point of view of three main characters. With as short as the book is, we don't have enough time to explore any of them as deeply as I would have liked since our attention is so split. Lev's story in particular needs more time and more development so we can understand why he changed; it's there, I just want more time to let it soak in. However, the multiple perspectives give us a wider view of the situation as a whole. We focus on the stories of individuals rather than the all of society, but we still get the big picture. I especially like that Shusterman doesn't turn any of his characters into monsters or saints. Each is complex, and even if we don't agree with their choices, we see where they're coming from.
I loved the Humphrey Dunfee urban legend that came up again and again throughout the novel. It tied things together in an unexpected but satisfying way. I'm still a bit annoyed at myself for not making the connection to Humpty Dumpty until now. How did I miss that?
The premise is not terribly plausible, but Shusterman makes it work, and by the end, we can see why society may have chosen to go down such a callous road. This book deals with some hard issues that can springboard into great discussions. What is the soul? Are you still alive if all your physical parts are? What does the sanctity of human life really mean? How much choice should an individual have over their own life? What should society do with with the people it doesn't want? Shusterman doesn't preach, doesn't tell you what to think. He just presents the story and lets us think it out for ourselves. There are no clear answers, but it is the thinking that matters. We cannot, as the novel's society does, just evade the responsibility of an unexpected baby or a troublesome teenager.
The book does contain some content that will be disturbing to some readers. It's not graphic, but Shusterman writes in such a way that your imagination fills in the blanks in a heebee jeebees kind of way. Aside from that, and perhaps because of it, it is a very compelling novel and a satisfying read.
P.S. Register to be an organ donor if you haven't done so already. You won't need your liver if you're dead, and someone else does.