Saturday, April 30, 2011

Unwind, by Neal Shusterman

Title:  Unwind
Author:  Neal Shusterman
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Year:  2007
Pages:  352
Genre:  Science Fiction, Dystpoian
Themes:  Reproductive Rights, Ethics, Morality, Survival, Identity
Age Levels:  7th-10th Grade


Set in the future, the second civil war is fought over abortion. To end the war, a compromise is reached that ends the practice of abortion but creates an alternative called "unwinding." Between the ages of 13 and 17, parents or guardians can choose to have their children unwound, which involves having every part of their bodies harvested to be "donated" to another person so, technically, they don't really die. The complex and compelling plot follows three teens whose stories intertwine when they escape while on their way to the harvest camps. Fifteen-year-old Connor's parents can no longer control him. Lev, a tithe, was raised by religious parents for the sole purpose of being unwound. Risa, a ward of the state, is a victim of shrinking budgets since she is not a talented enough musician to be kept alive. (From School Library Journal)

My first thought upon finishing this book (in practically one sitting, I might add) was "Holy crap!".  Not the most literary of sentiments, I realize, but I was so blown away by this story that "Holy crap" was as articulate as I could get.

When  this book was first recommended to me by a close friend, I was a little bit concerned about the subject matter.  Not that I consider myself squeamish, nor and I averse to a good debate over something I feel strongly about, like a woman's right to choose-I was more afraid that the book would come off as preachy, which is something I find pretty abhorrent in a book (though less so when the author's preachiness agrees with me!).  I was assured by my (many) friends who had read Unwind that was not the case, and they were 100% right (I can hear them all saying, "Of course we were, stupid!"-well, maybe without the stupid part!)  In fact, after reading the entire book I'm not sure where Shusterman himself would come down on the subject of reproductive rights-but I do know how he feels about respecting and protecting  the children already here.

Shusterman's characters are well-drawn, and sympathetic while still being flawed, each in their own way.  Connor, the character who sets the rest of the events in motion, is a perfect example of a good kid gone bad through lack of impulse control.  I see two or three of those go through my classroom every year.  Risa is actually the most functional of the three youth, which is ironic given the fact that she spent her entire life in a state youth home with no family.  Lev is the one that got to me the most-a boy raised from birth to believe that he was destined to honor God by allowing himself to be "tithed" to the church by being unwound.  Let's see, young men raised to believe that it is an honor to die for their religious beliefs-sound familiar to anyone?

Obviously the whole concept of unwinding could lead to some pretty intense discussion of morality, ethics, and the existence and/or nature of the soul.  But there are points all along the way to take that discussion into different directions.  What about the doctors?  Don't they take and oath to do no harm?  What happens to the parents?  What kind of belief about the sanctity of life does unwinding lead to in the society?  Do people seem to value life more or less as a result of storking and unwinding?  Should people be allowed to pay for body parts?  Should scientists do something, like the neurobonding in the book, just because they can, or is there a higher ethical standard to meet.  This book has a ton of different ways you could go.

Teacher Resources:
Simon and Schuster Reading Guide
Teachervision Reading Group Guide
 eNotes Study Guide

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