Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Connor, Risa and Levi are three teens who are about to be unwound; however all three handle it extremely differently. In this YA novel set in the not-so-distant future, unwinding is a procedure that was reached as a compromise between the pro-life and pro-choice camps after a bloody war. While abortion is now illegal, parents have the option of “unwinding” their children once they reach the age of 13 (this option expires once the child turns 18 however). Unwinding seems to appease both sides because it’s a way to live on forever while not actual being truly alive. In a sense, the children forcefully donate every single piece of their body, organs, limbs, skin, everything, to other humans. Though apparently this compromise was originally intended as a joke but somehow ended up being taken seriously. Eerie indeed.
Connor is a trouble maker. Always was. He accidentally found his unwind order in his father’s drawer. He’s pissed. He runs away. Risa is a ward of the state. Almost all those kids get unwound at some point. She knew this long ago. Unless they’re exceptional in some way. She tried to be exceptional at the piano, but it wasn’t enough. She’s on her way to the unwind facility (known as “harvest camps”) when her bus gets into an accident and she escapes and meets Connor. Levi is a tithe. He’s the tenth child in his very religious family and he’s just turned 13. He’s known all his life he was special, born to be given away as a gift (because, as very religious people do, you give a tenth of all you have to the church). He’s going to the unwinding facility full of excitement and purpose. But then he gets pulled out of his car by Connor and kidnapped. All of this happens very quickly and suddenly the three of them are together in the woods.
The three teens (Connor and Risa are older than Levi) don’t exactly have a plan but Connor and Risa are determined to keep going and hopefully make it to their eighteenth birthdays. Once they do they know they can no longer be unwound no matter what. But Levi feels cheated. He was supposed to be sacrificed and now it’s all ruined. But throughout their travels they learn a lot about each other and they all change in ways they never imagined, Levi possibly most of all. And what happens as they all REALLY start to deal with the repercussions of them becoming AWOL unwinds is where it gets incredibly interesting...and dangerous.
I never really read YA books but this was very interesting. I guess you could tell it was YA in that the sentences weren’t as elaborate or descriptive as a lot of the other books I read but that didn’t detract from the reading experience. While the subject matter was very heavy the writing focused much more on intense action scenes to keep the reader engaged and turning the pages. However there were definitely a couple of thought-provoking lines by the main characters that got me to scratch my head. It would make me wonder at times whether the author himself was pro-life or choice. But in the end I think that either way the reader had to come to their own conclusions about the story in that regard and that was part of what made it intriguing.
One quote that I wrote down that I found particularly biting was this:
"People shouldn't give away babies that get left at their door," Lev finally says."People shouldn't stork their babies," Risa responds."People shouldn't do a lot of things," says Connor. He knows they're 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.
I think that last part is so true and can be applied not just to the pro-life or choice fight, but to so many other things going on in the world.
Plus, as a bonus that I almost forgot to mention, the main female character in the novel, Risa, is pretty kick-ass which is awesome. It's great to have a book for younger people that has a good female lead. She's incredibly smart, independent and resourceful. A great positive for the book!
Overall I gave it 4 stars, which for a YA novel is pretty impressive coming from me. And I think this works for someone on either side of the fence when it comes to this tricky topic. A definite recommend.