Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Review: Unwind

Title: Unwind
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genre: Science Fiction (Dystopian), YA


After a messy war over the sanctity of life, society has decided on a horrific compromise.  Life cannot be taken, but it can be "unwound."  Teenagers can be split apart, every part of their body transplanted to others, so that they are technically living, if not whole.

Connor is a troubled youth, who's parents decide he's too much hassle to keep alive.  He discovers their plans for him and runs, bumping into two other unwinds: Risa, a ward of the state who is deemed not quite talented enough to be kept alive, and Lev, a "tithe," the ten son "donated" by a religious purpose for holy sacrifice.  They fight for their lives and ideals, while the threat of unwinding looms on the horizon.


This is one of those dangerous books, where, if you pick it up, you will have a great deal of trouble putting it down.  The suspense begins on page 1, when our hero Connor faces a decision: does he submit to the unwind order his parents signed for him or does he escape.  From there is constant action and the threat of danger.  I found only one lull, mid-book, when the characters reached a point of relative safety.

Like all good Dystopian scifi, Unwind begins with a horrific idea and explores its ramification.  Why would parents think about sacrificing their children?  How would a society try to assuage its guilt?  And, most prominently, child actually continue to live in some function after their unwinding?  The answers are not so simple as they may seem.   This is not a society of black and white, but shades of gray.

While dark at times, Unwind maintains a good balance of hope, and the story never fails to surprise or intrigue.  Just when you think you know where something is heading, it turns around and surprises.  If you're fond of Dystopian science fiction, suspenseful writing, and twisty, well-crafted plots, this is a story for you.  Just be sure to read it when you have some time to spare.

Rant (Spoilers):

This is a solid book.  Craft-wise, it does everything a book ought to do.  It began tense, provided twists and turns, and ended right where you dreaded going but in your secret heart really wanted to see.  There was a cast of colorful characters, moral dilemnas, action, drama, and romance.  It was fast-faced, vivid in its world-building, but not overly wordy.  The conclusion contained pangs of loss and sparks of hope.  If you want heart-wrenching, look no further than the scene where a character gets unwound, losing one by one all the pieces of his identity.  If you want sweet, witness how the parents of Humphry Dunfree put their broken boy back together again.

This book did everything right.  And yet, for some reason I just can't understand, I didn't fall in love with it.  I felt completely satisfied, but not personally attached or compelled to immediately go out and read the next book.  Maybe the end was just a little too "closed like a clamshell" perfect for me.  I didn't have any lingering questions.  I didn't feel the drive to start a revolution and overturn the world.  The characters seemed settled into their roles as minor revolutionaries and that was good enough for me.

I guess if I'm going to be fanatically picky, Connor and Risa, while likable characters, never really transcended their "hero" and "heroine" archetypes.  They always acted good insofar as they could, but never revealed any tremendous hidden depths.  All the internal conflict and shades of gray went to Lev, who easily usurped them as the most interesting character in the book.  But even he, by the end, seemed to have resolved all the doubt that haunted him throughout the book.

But this is all just taste.  Can I blame an author who did everything well because I personally didn't bond to his characters, because it didn't reshape my way of thinking?  The book is well worth reading.  It's just not one of my all-time favorites.

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