Unwind – Neal Shusterman

This book had been on my list for some time, after seeing it over and over again in the ‘must read’ dystopian fiction lists that seem to pop up every once in a while. It’s surprisingly hard to track down, given it was only published a couple of years back.


The premise is this: After the bloody Second Civil War fought between Pro-Life and Pro-Choice, a set of constitutional amendments known as the ‘Bill of Life’ were passed.  The Bill basically means that human life can’t be touched from conception to the age of 13. But from 13-18, parents may choose to retrospectively abort that child…but their life doesn’t technically end. They are ‘Unwound’ and kept in a divided state…that is, their organs are divided up and implanted to those who need it most.

“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” -Susan

The novel grapples with themes of free will, war, religion, redemption and human rights: When does life begin? Who gets to decide whether a life is actually worth living? And when? I can think of many revolutionaries who between the ages of 13-18 would have been deemed ‘misfits’.

Shusterman has created a fascinating Orwellian universe. The Bill of Life has created a sort of black market adoption.  ‘Storking’ is common practice in this universe- where unwanted babies are simply dumped outside unsuspecting houses, in the hopes that they will provide the baby with a better life. Unless of course..that baby is storked over and over until it dies of malnutrition, exposure etc on someone’s doorstep. Another common practice is the harvesting of parts. Gone are the days when doctors could diagnose and cure. Now it’s all about providing new parts, harvested from teens.

“Change” repeated the social worker, “that’s all. The way ice becomes water, the way water becomes clouds. You will live Risa. Only in different form”

The novel is written in third person narrative, with chapters switching between the 3 main characters, and some peripheral characters who serve to give us a better understanding of society outside the main protagonists’ universe.

We’re introduced to Conner who has grown into a troubled teen. After unwittingly discovering the signed unwinding paperwork one day, vows to not become a statistic. Risa is a promising ward of the state, one of many babies left abandoned at birth, who is being unwound simply because of budget cuts.  And finally, Lev the tithe. Similar to the practice of donating a portion of your wealth to a church, Lev’s parents tithed their 10th child to be divided when his time comes. Tithes do not take kindly to being called ‘unwinds’ or ‘terribles’ as they see themselves as in a class above them. Lev’s point of view provides us with a lot of thought provoking scenes, as we see him grapple with his destiny.

These three are brought together after Connor determines to stage an escape from the system that would unwind him. Some scenes are unsettling, particularly the flippant and cold disregard to human life, and the unwinding of a character in the book- yes the author does go there.

The Admiral is introduced to us later on in the book, and provides historical perspective into how this world got so mad. He’s a great character, showing us there can be good where there was once bad.

“…One thing you learn when you’ve lived as long as I have-people aren’t all good, and people aren’t all bad. We move in and out of darkness and light all of our lives. Right now, I’m pleased to be in the light.”

It’s an action packed read, and suitable for young adults onwards. If you’re a fan of the Maze Runner and the Hunger Games, you’ll probably love this. It started off slow, but soon turned into the frenzied, up half the night ‘just one more page’ kinda thing. I other words, my kind of book 🙂

What are some of your fave dystopian reads?



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