Saturday, June 6, 2009


Shusterman, Neal. Unwind. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2009.
[Book cover credit:]

ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2008)
Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (2008)
Top Ten Quick Picks (2008)

Following the Heartland War, a second civil war between the pro-choicers and the pro-lifers, a compromise is reached. There will be no more abortions, but parents can choose to "retroactively terminate the pregnancy" of a child that does not meet expectations by the age of 13. Parents can choose to unwind their teenagers. Too many fights at school, bad grades, simply being unexceptional. Anything can convince your parents that you're not worthy to reach adulthood. Anything can turn you into an Unwind.

I heard about this book during that dead time when there were no more hardbacks left and no paperbacks yet. I feel like I have been waiting forever for it to come out in paperback, and it was worth the wait. The book follows Connor, whose parents chose to have him unwound; Risa, who is a ward of the state who is not special enough to be worth the money it would take to house and feed her until her 18th birthday; and Lev, who has always know he would be unwound as a tithe from his parents, the 10th percent of their children. Each grow and change as normal teenagers have a tendency to do, but they do it while hiding from the cops and traveling in an underground railroad type connection of protectors. Their romances and fights never manage to take precedence over their anger, betrayal, hurt, and fear about the orders that have been given to end their "undivided" existence, but they do reinforce the normalness of all of the teenagers depicted in the book, which makes the thought of them being unwound all the worse.

Given the content, especially the origins of the concept of unwinding teenagers, this book was decidedly not preachy. In fact, while you know that unwinding is really really wrong before you make it out of the first chapter, a definitive stance on abortion is never taken. The ways that society can go wrong when a single idea is carried out to its horrific extreme, however, are illustrated in a way that is perfectly clear. As are the consequences of knowing right from wrong, seeing others suffer, and doing nothing about it.

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