100-Character Breakdown: A page-turning survival story with moral complexity, engrossing narrative, and intriguing characters.
Genre: Young adult, sci-fi, dystopian
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (Nov. 2007)
With a thought provoking story and intensely complex characters, Neal Shusterman’s Unwind is the kind of novel that can stand the test of time. The novel focuses on three teens, all of whom are scheduled to be “unwound” — every single organ in their bodies will be transplanted into different people, making it so their lives don’t legally end.
After the Second Civil War, the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life armies created The Bill of Life: human life would remain untouched starting at conception, but when a person is between ages 13 and 18, their guardian can choose to unwind them. Connor’s parents decide to unwind him because he is too rebellious. Risa is a ward of the state; she is a piano player, but is deemed untalented and unworthy of the cost to the state to keep her in her State Home. Lev, the youngest of ten children, is a tithe: he was born a religious sacrifice, always meant to be unwound. As their unwindings approach, the three cross paths in Ohio and take their one chance to escape.
This novel is the perfect blend of high-paced tension and intriguing moral complexities. The chapters are divided into narratives for each of the three characters (a few other minor characters also have their own chapters throughout), and each narrative is truly engrossing. These characters are deeply pained and flawed, and this makes them feel real. Readers will be quick to care about the characters, who each have varied origins that provide a wide range of perspectives on the novel’s world. The protagonists meet a variety of interesting figures, who feel developed no matter how short their appearances are. When Shusterman includes chapters told from the perspective of minor or unnamed characters, these chapters are written deftly with the urgency and concision of short stories. All of this together forms a well-balanced, topical piece that has the page-turning, developmental flair of a survival story. Unwind is part of a dystology, and once readers absorb the first book, there is no doubt they will be eager to explore the next three.