Monday, February 9, 2009

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

This isn’t a political blog, so no opinions will be expressed one way or another, but consider for a moment, if you will, abortion. As a guy, maybe you haven’t thought about it much, think the issue doesn’t really affect you. Maybe you have been very close to the issue or have even helped make a decision involving it. Maybe you know its out there, know that its something people fight, and even die, over, but haven’t formed your full opinion yet. Unwind byNeal Shusterman may or may not help you decide where you stand on the issue of abortion. To you, it may just be a fun, futuristic adventure story of policy taken to extreme. That’s fine—a story can transport you to another time, another place, get you into the heads of other people for a brief period of time, that’s why many of us love stories. But this is a story that can also lead you to some deeper thinking about your beliefs if you want it to.

In the action-packed novel Unwind, The Heartland War was fought over one issue: abortion. Instead of one side winning, there was a compromise: The Bill of Life. This new law states that no unborn children will be aborted, but when a child is between 13 and 17, parents (or the government) can choose to have them “unwound”-- killed, but with all of their limbs and organs donated to others who are sick or injured. This way they are “living on, in a divided state.” The propoganda and doublespeak involved in getting everyone to agree on this compromise must have been amazing! But Unwind doesn't dwell on how the government arrived at this policy, it focuses on the teenagers that the policy affects. The novel follows the stories of three teens who are about to be unwound: Connor runs away when he finds out his parents have signed the unwind order. Sure, he’s acted out some, but he hasn’t done anything bad enough to deserve this, has he? Risa lives in a state home for orphans, which, due to funding issues, cannot keep her there any more, and because (in their estimation) she has the lowest chance of being a productive citizen, she is chosen for unwinding (kind of gives a new meaning to budget cuts, eh?). Lev comes from a strictly religious family, one that believes in tithing—giving 10% of whatever they have back to God. This includes 10% of their children, and they have conceived Lev with the express purpose of tithing him by having him unwound when he turns 13. Lev has grown up knowing the purpose of his life, and believes he is fulfilling God’s will. He had a giant party—a combination of a bar mitzvah, graduation party, and wedding—before he left for the harvest camp, but is he really ready to face his death now? How strong is his faith, really? Connor, Risa, and Lev meet by chance when Connor tries to escape his fate, and now are on the run together, but they soon find that the lives of AWOL unwinds are very dangerous. From the underground railroad (a network of people who try to keep escapee unwinds safe until they turn 18), to a work camp for fugitives, to the harvest camp where the unwinding happens, this is an adventure that is also very scary and thought provoking.

If you like chilling science fiction novels that paint pictures of bleak futures that you secretly think just MIGHT really come to pass, give Unwind a try. Read it for the story, and if it gets you to thinking about what your informed opinion about abortion, well, that’s just a bonus. Shusterman is tough on the people on each side of the issue, really leaving you to make up your own mind. Neal Shusterman is quite the prolific writer, check out his home page for more on his numerous other books, as well as his writing for television, movies, and games.


Colleen said...

This description has officially creeped me out; I don't know how I missed hearing about it before this.


david elzey said...

I've been involved in a number of heated conversations about this book, and the people who have the biggest problem with it are the adults. The teens I've talked get right into the issues at the core of the book - abortion, choice, tithing, fundamentalist thinking, terrorism - and they like how it gets them thinking about where they stand on these issues.

Shusterman didn't write a flawless book, or necessarily a scientifically plausible one, but it is compelling in its IDEAS and that's what makes it a great read.

Ms. Yingling said...

This was a GREAT book. The adults in my school like it almost better than the children do. Are they afraid? Do we, as adults, have a mental list of children we would "unwind"? Nooooo....