Thursday, October 31, 2013

Teen/YA Review: UnWholly

One of my favorite books read for Dangerous Reads Month was UnWholly by Neal Schusterman, the sequel to his popular and highly acclaimed Unwind, which my husband, son, and I all loved. This super creepy dystopian thriller kept me up way too late reading every night!

The setting of this trilogy is a United States just slightly into the future, where a second civil war, The Heartland War, has been fought over reproductive rights. The pro-lifers and the pro-choicers finally ended the war with the Unwind Accord that says that life is inviolable starting at conception;  however, unruly or disagreeable teens (is there any other kind?) can be “unwound,” whereby all of their organs and body parts are transplanted into others so that life does not officially end. So, a kid who gets bad grades or rebels against his or her parents may wake up one morning to find officers from the National Juvenile Authority ready to take them to a harvest camp because their parents signed an Unwind Order. I know – super creepy, right??

In Unwind, Schusterman created a chilling but compelling story about a group of teens who, in various ways, escaped their unwinding. Connor escaped from the Juvies on the way to harvest camp and was officially declared an AWOL. During a car accident, he took Lev, a tithe (yes, a kid born to be unwound), as an unwilling hostage to help him escape.  Risa, an orphan and ward of the state also escaped when she was sent to a harvest camp to relieve overcrowding in her state home.

Don’t worry – no spoilers here for those who haven’t read Unwind yet! In the second book, these teens’ stories continue as they try to stay alive, evade the Juvenile Authorities, and help other Unwinds to escape. The story alternates between each of the main characters’ perspectives (plus a few new ones), providing a wide range of points of view of this frightening world. A new teen character is also introduced: Cam, a new kind of person who must come to grips with his own strange history and who learns a startling truth about unwinding.

Although the novel is action-packed from start to finish and filled with suspense, Schusterman also delves more deeply here into the ethical issues that arise from this strange new world (as all good dystopian stories do). The characters grapple with all kinds of moral issues, as the events from the first novel reverberated through society. Does the good done by providing much-needed transplant organs and tissues make up for the evil of unwinding? Should the needs of the many outweigh the rights of the few? What makes someone human and defines life? Although horrifying, this world is also compelling; Schusterman himself said that he intended Unwind to be a stand-alone book, but he just couldn’t stop thinking about the world he’d created there.

While the gripping story and intricate plot kept me turning the pages, I also enjoyed the thought-provoking nature of the novel. Schusterman has created a world that is unfathomable and yet eerily similar to our own. The unthinkable act of unwinding is rationalized in frighteningly calm and logical ways. The teen characters in this trilogy are realistically portrayed and feel like old friends by the second book. The third and final book of the trilogy, UnSouled, will be released next week – my husband, son and I can’t wait to see how it all ends!

401 pages, Simon & Schuster


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