31 January 2011

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

In a society where unwanted teens are salvaged for their body parts, three runaways fight the system that would "unwind" them Connor's parents want to be rid of him because he's a troublemaker. Risa has no parents and is being unwound to cut orphanage costs. Lev's unwinding has been planned since his birth, as part of his family's strict religion. Brought together by chance, and kept together by desperation, these three unlikely companions make a harrowing cross-country journey, knowing their lives hang in the balance. If they can survive until their eighteenth birthday, they can't be harmed -- but when every piece of them, from their hands to their hearts, are wanted by a world gone mad, eighteen seems far, far away.

In Unwind, Boston Globe/Horn Book Award winner Neal Shusterman challenges readers' ideas about life -- not just where life begins, and where it ends, but what it truly means to be alive.

This was a very interesting book. I wouldn't call it incredibly entertaining, but I think a book about abortion, the definition of life, and consciousness vs vitality should probably be a little uncomfortable in places. This book definitely delivers on that. The premise is pretty simple: as the US has a civil war over abortion, the compromise is that abortion is illegal. Instead it is made legal for a parent or guardian to choose to "unwind" their child between the ages of 13 and 18. Unwinding is a process where the body of the child is dismantled and all the parts are donated to living humans. As long as none is wasted and it is all put into living bodies then the unwound child isn't dead . . . just living in pieces.

I will admit I found a few problems with the premise. First, it seems rather unrealistic for me that abortions-rights advocates would agree to this scenario as acceptable. It seems to me that requiring that an unwanted child be supported until the age of 13 goes against everything they stand for. On the other hand, the concept of "storking" (being able to leave an unwanted baby on someone's doorstep and, as long as you aren't caught - they are obligated to care for that child as if it was their own) may have been the compromise in that situation, because it does remove the obligation to care for a child if the mother is careful. I do see where the general public would start to accept the concept, especially when they explain that unwound donations are the cornerstone of modern medicine and have replaced most traditional cures (why fix it when you can get a new one?). It does seem that modern Americans are able to accept a lot of questionable medical practices as long as they get immediate results. And I found the fundamentalist Christian reaction in the book to be spot-on (they develop a system of "tithing" - giving back to G-d by having a child to be unwound, thus giving themselves completely to help save other people's lives, then spend their life convincing them that this is an honorable and glorious calling).

And, if all that meta doesn't hook you then I don't really think this book is for you. Sure, there are convincing characters acting in a solid plot and working towards a better tomorrow . . . but really the book is about the "thinky bits". And it does them really well. You get so invested in the characters that you begin to understand their points of view and why they react as they do, and, consequently, why they think like they do. There really isn't much preaching about things in the book, it's all filtered through the characters' points-of-view in a way that makes it teachable and yet palatable at the same time. So, while this certainly isn't a light, happy read it is an enjoyable way to get some philosophy and think about your place in the world.

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