Guest Post: Unwind

Cover for Unwind, by Neal ShustermanBy Neal Shusterman

ISBN 978-1416912057

**Shay will be on holidays for the month of July. Guest posts brought to you by Amelia. **

“Change? What do you mean by ‘change’? Dying is a little bit more than a ‘change.’ “

“Please, Miss Ward. It’s not dying, and I’m sure everyone here would more comfortable if you didn’t suggest something so blatantly inflammatory. The fact is, 100 percent of you will be alive, just in a divided state.”

After the United States has ravaged itself in a second civil war, this time over reproductive rights, a new medical procedure is put into place by the government: the Unwinding, where parents and guardians can send in their teenagers to be Unwound, their parts redistributed to those in need. Risa Ward, Connor Lassiter, and Levi Calder are all Unwinds being sent to the state facilities for their procedures when they go AWOL and ignite a massive manhunt across America. The story starts as the familiar narrative of teenage rebellion in a dystopian world that now seems to be sweeping bookstores. What is unexpected, however, is the grace with which Unwind dovetails these narratives of resistance with the perpetual vulnerability inherent to every single one of its adolescent characters. Faced with the real and fatal threat of lost bodily autonomy the moment they are caught stepping out of line, the characters are constantly struggling with rebellion and survival on a very personal level even while the book itself remains mindful of the systemic flaws of the larger governmental system they live in.

The timely commentary that Unwind makes about the very real consequences of enforcing self-serving agendas through political reform manages to be unforgettable without having to resort to a firm beating of the book’s morals over the reader’s head. This subtlety is what makes the Unwind‘s climax and end both satisfying and inspirational despite a pointed lack of the grandiosity often associated with novels demanding more palpable social change. For while the commentary is directed at the world structure, and the type of society that would allow something like the Unwinding to both exist and thrive, Shusterman focuses on the individual as a vehicle for its change. More often than not, the characters were narratively rewarded for their acts of humanity and selflessness in the face of suffering, and frequently punished for ambitious and violent acts done with little consideration or follow-through. Through all of this, we as readers are lead to the same realization that the characters must come to terms with: it is the loss of humanity that creates such systemic brutality – not only in the dehumanizing of those it disregards and kills, but also in the inhumane behaviour of selfishness and self-centred ideology.

This novel offers much more than just gritty characters and sharp social commentary, however. The most charming aspect of Unwind is the variety of viewpoints the reader is treated to, from the AWOL Unwinds to those who harbour them to the police and doctors who want to capture them and take them apart. Rather than being overwhelming and confusing, it instead fleshes out an already-compelling world through an unflinching empathizing with all of its inhabitants, not just the sympathetic protagonists. The constant shifting of narrative perspectives also allows Shusterman the refreshing liberty to deny his readers the guarantee of success – or even safety – for any character he uses to populate this easy-to-imagine new America. Clearly demonstrated by an absolutely chilling scene experienced through the eyes of a major character while he is being Unwound, the move keeps readers tense and engaged through its final pages. A very well-written example of a dystopian world done right, Unwind is a compelling and eye-opening read, and one of my favourite books that I’ve picked up this year.

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