Unwinding a Difficult Topic

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Neal Shusterman
Unwind
2007
Simon & Schuster

Review by Chelsea Archer

As anyone who has ever read Neal Shusterman will tell you, his books don’t shy away from difficult topics. He broaches these topics by creating fantastical worlds that blend elements of realism. Speculative fiction relies on realism to draw the reader in and make them believe in the absurd happenings of the story. Shusterman’s novels are moral plays, on par with Stephen King’s Misery, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, and Frank Herbert’s Dune.

As the author of over 30 novels, Neal Shusterman knows how to create a burning interest within the first few pages. Like most other YA novels, his characters are often under the age of 20, the parents are no longer in the picture (for a variety of reasons) and they undergo a quest of some sort that changes them at a fundamental level, but unlike most other YA novels, he likes to open his tales with immediate shock and hardship. In Shusterman’s Skinjacker trilogy for instance, readers are taken to children’s limbo where newly dead or dying souls must come to grips with the end of their short lives. The opening page introduces the reader to the heroine as she is killed, instantly drawing us in. Life and death make up a large part of his novels, something that many of us struggle to understand and come to terms with. This serves not only to compel YA readers to consider this heavier topic, but also to bridge the gap between YA and an adult audience.

Just as in past novels, Neal Shusterman’s Unwind creates a fantastic world with our own issues hidden just below the surface. In the United States, sometime in the near future, a second civil war takes place over abortion. The resulting compromise calls for unwanted children between the ages of 13 and 18 to be “unwound” – have their body parts harvested for later use. Since all parts of their body will be reused and live on, technically, the government considers them to still be alive.

Here the reader meets Connor, Risa, and Lev, our three heroes leading us through the narrative. All three are set to be unwound and all three feel differently about their impending dissolution. This is what gives the novel such depth. We are provided with each possible viewpoint into the act of unwinding, allowing us to form our own conclusion. We see one child fighting for his life, one welcoming the end, and another following a religious path.

However, it’s not until Shusterman takes us into the mind of a character being unwound that we can truly appreciate this novel’s depth.

“I’m alone. And I’m crying. And no one is coming to the crib. And the nightlight has burned out. And I’m mad. I’m so mad. Left frontal lobe. I…I…I don’t feel so good. Left occipital lobe. I… don’t remember where…Left parietal lobe. I…I…I can’t remember my name,but…but…Right temporal…but I’m still here. Right frontal. I’m still here… Right occipital. I’m still…Right parietal. I’m…Cerebellum. I’m…Thalamus. I…Hypothalamus. I…Hippocampus…Medulla……………..” (Shusterman 226).

In this passage we see this child’s mind deteriorate as sections of her brain is harvested. Shusterman doesn’t just show the body being taken apart, (which is disturbing by itself) he physically places us into the perfect position to watch as the very essence of a human being is destroyed.

Throughout the novel, Shusterman alludes to questions of the human soul – What is the human soul? If our body is separated but still alive in others, is our soul gone? Did it get transferred? Are we dead or alive? He gives us everything we need to form our own conclusion. But whatever conclusion you may reach, the remainder of the novel is given new power, because we now know the fate that awaits our heroes if they fail – complete and utter dissolution of body and mind.

YA fiction is underrated in the adult community, but it should be given a chance, because by having fewer expectations than a literary novel, YA novels are able to take more risks, thus providing the reader with a new experience. Although not as popular as The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, Unwind is the perfect novel for those who wish question their beliefs, better understand a topic of great controversy, and wonder how the human mind adapts to new perspectives. Read this book.