Monday, June 25, 2012

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Summary:  To end the war between the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice factions, a law allowing children to be retroactively aborted between the ages of 13 and 18 is passed.  ‘Unwinding’ as it is called means every part of a person’s body is harvested for someone else’s use.  Misbehaving causes Connor's parents to decide to Unwind him.  Budget cuts at the state home for orphans are Risa's undoing.  But Lev is a tithe and has known his whole life he was born to be Unwound.  On one fateful day, these lives will intertwine and the fight for the right to life will begin.

Dystopian Issues:  Pro-Life Movement, Pro-Choice Movement, Rights of Minors, Abandonment, Religious Fanaticism, Terrorism
Part of a Series:  The first book in the Unwind series
Next in Series: Unwholly, available August 28, 2012
Age of Main Characters: Connor is 15, Risa is 15 and Lev is 13
Number of Pages:  335
Year of Publication:  2007
Publisher:  Simon & Shuster Books for Young Readers

Review:  The first thing that comes to my mind is, how has this book been around for five years and I only happened to stumble upon it accidentally?
     Right from the start I loved this book because it explores topics I think about all of the time: the rights of organ donors, what the transfer of body parts really means for the donor and the recipient and what happens to regular health care when a society becomes obsessed with transplantation?
     I find Shusterman's style to be dark but witty.  When someone is finally unwound in the book, it is a stomach turning moment because Shusterman captures it in horrific detail.  His plot moves along smoothly and I was easily taken up in the story of a society that knows what it is doing is wrong, but lacks a moral compass or naysayer.
     I could list all of the things I loved about this book, but suffice it to say that Shusterman creates a rich, detailed world that mirrors our own while taking it one step further.  The reason why it affected me so much was because I could see the truth and possibility in his writing.  All good books stem from a 'what if' question, and Shusterman's book starts "What if there was a war between the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice movements?" and goes from there, picking up many other 'what if' questions along the way.  What if being unwound meant you didn't die?  What if terrorists could inject their bodies with explosive materials?  What if the piece of brain you got from a brain transplant had unresolved issues?  What if you regretted unwinding your child?  What if you didn't want to be unwound?
     One complaint about this book though.  As a transplant recipient, I can't divorce myself from my lived reality, and my lived reality revolves around immunosuppression to keep my transplanted organs and my body in tune with each other.  Shusterman makes no reference to immunosuppression at any time, which leads me to assume that although he doesn't tell us how, his dystopian world has somehow conquered that problem.
     I went a bit overboard with the quotes, but I just loved the book so much that I couldn't help including my favourite ideas from it.  Neal Shusterman has officially become my new favourite author.

Real Life Dystopias:  Shusterman has already done the work for this section.  In his book he refers to a Ukrainian maternity hospital accused of stealing babies at birth for organ removal( in Part Three.  In Part Four, he includes a response from eBay to someone's attempt to sell their soul.  Also, the airplane graveyard Shusterman uses beginning in chapter 28 actually exists (
     With all of the attention currently on organ donation and transplantation in Canada thanks to Hélène Campbell (, "Unwind" feels like a cautionary tale potentially to be ripped from the headlines as the Admiral's quote "If more people were organ donors Unwinding never would have happened" begins the book.
      What really struck me, however, was that in the nearly twenty-five years it has been since my first transplant, a lot has been learned about transplant science. But there is a lot that remains a mystery. Is the transaction between donor and recipient merely physical, or is some of who they are, their soul in essence, transferred as well? Could all transplant recipients be disembodied pieces of another whole, as in the case of Harlan Dunfee?
      As someone who has received two organs from different people, I wish I had a definitive answer. Still, even with science lacking a definitive answer on the subject, transplants are done all the time. Perhaps that is part of the reason donor families and transplant recipients are kept from exchanging personal information.

Memorable Quotes:  "'People shouldn't do a lot of things,' says Connor.  He knows they are both right, but it doesn't make a difference.  In a perfect world mothers would all want their babies, and strangers would open up their homes to the unloved.  In a perfect world everything would be either black or white, right or wrong, and everyone would know the difference.  But this isn't a perfect world.  The problem is people who think it is."
     -  Unwind by Neal Shusterman, pg 75

     "Which was worse, Risa often wondered - to have tens of thousands of babies that no one wanted, or to silently make them go away before they were even born?  On different days Risa had different answers."
     -  Unwind by Neal Shusterman, pg 115

     "'He got famous, though, for painting people of African ancestry in the Deep South.  The color he used most was umber.  People liked that a whole lot better, so it stuck.... Following right along, they started calling so-called white people 'sienna,' after another paint color.  Better words.  Didn't have no value judgement to them.  Of course, it's not like racism is gone completely, but as my dads like to say, the veneer of civilzation got itself a second coat.'"
     -  Unwind by Neal Shusterman, pg 122

     "'You might think I'm stupid, but I got a good reason for the way I feel,' Emby says.  'When I was little, I was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis.  Both my lungs were shutting down.  I was gonna die.  So they took out both of my dying lungs and gave me a single lung from an Unwind.  The only reason I'm alive is because that kid got unwound.'
     'So,' says Connor, 'your life is more important than his?'
     'He was already unwound - it's not like I did it to him.  If I didn't get that lung, someone else would have.'
     In his anger, Connor's voice begins to rise, even though Emby's only a couple of feet away at most.  'If there wasn't unwinding, there'd be fewer surgeons, and more doctors.  If there wasn't unwinding, they'd go back to trying to cure diseases instead of just replacing stuff with someone else's.'"
     -  Unwind by Neal Shusterman, pg 168-169

     "'A person doesn't get a soul until that person is loved.  If a mother loves her baby - wants her baby - it's got a soul from the moment she knows it's there.  The moment you're loved, that's when you get your soul.  Punto!'
     'Yeah?' says Connor.  'Well, what about all those babies that get storked - or all those kids in state schools?'
     'They just better hope somebody loves them someday.'"
     -  Unwind by Neal Shusterman, pg 174

     "'I was right there in the room when they came up with the idea that a pregnancy could be terminated retroactively once a child reaches the age of reason,' says the Admiral.  'At first it was a joke - no one intended it to be taken seriously....
     'With the war getting worse,' says the Admiral, 'We brokered a peace by bringing both sides to the table.  Then we proposed the idea of unwinding, which would terminate unwanteds without actually ending their lives.  We thought it would shock both sides into seeing reason - that they would stare at each other across the table and someone would blink.  But nobody blinked.'"
     -  Unwind by Neal Shusterman, pg 224

     "Pastor Dan straightens out his shirt and shivers a bit from the cold.  He doesn't really look like himself today.  This is the first time Lev has seen him without his pastor's clothes.  'Why are you dressed like that, anyway?'
     He takes a moment before he answers.  'I resigned my position.  I left the church.'
     The thought of Pastor Dan being anything but Pastor Dan throws Lev for a loop.  'You . . . you lost your faith?'
     'No,' he says, 'just my convictions.  I still very much believe in God - just not a god who condones human tithing.'
     Lev begins to feel himself choking up with an unexpected flood of feeling, all the emotions that had been building throughout their talk - throughout the weeks - arriving all at once, like a sonic boom.  'I never knew there was a choice.'"
     -  Unwind by Neal Shusterman, pg 329

     "'I don't know what happens to our consciousness when we're unwound,' says Connor.  'I don't even know when that consciousness starts.  But I do know this.'  He pauses to make sure all of them are listening.  'We have a right to our lives!'"
     -  Unwind by Neal Shusterman, pg 333

Author Web Site:
Found in the Book:  I get most of my books from my local library (Toronto Public Library) and sometimes I find things other people have left as bookmarks in the book.  In this book I found a D. C. Comics playing card from 1977.  It's a number 6, with a picture of the Riddler on it.  On the back Superman's symbol is surrounded by words like OOF, KAPPONG and SOK!

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