unraveling this dystopia thing

Monday, November 2, 2009 |

There’s something extremely powerful about a well-written dystopian tale. The apocalypse has happened or been averted, but only at the price of society’s freedoms. These tales show us the possible effects of extreme control, horrors perpetrated in the name of peace, and a glimpse into a world where extremists get to answer the ultimate ‘what-if’ scenarios. The result is often absolutely terrifying. And it makes for some gripping, un-put-downable fiction.

Unwind was just such a novel. A frightening future has resulted in state-endorsed “unwinding” for society’s unwanted teens – harvesting of every body part (obviously resulting in their deaths – though the final effects are debated by the novel’s characters). How do those teens facing ‘unwinding’ act? That’s the central premise of Unwind. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s segue into the product description.

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, Neal Shusterman challenges readers' ideas about life -- not just where life begins, and where it ends, but what it truly means to be alive.

I heard about Unwind through the blogging community. It was praised, it was sort-of reviled, but everyone seemed to be talking about it. Then, when I had it sitting at the bottom of a pile of library books in my bedroom, my sister (who teaches 9th grade English) came out of the bookstore with a stack of books, including Unwind. Our conversation:

Me: “I just got that book out of the library! Wow – why’d you buy it?” Her: “Well, I asked the saleslady for a scary YA novel. We’re doing a unit on scary short stories, and I wanted something to lend to my kids.” Me: “Darn. This means I have to read it now.” Her: “Uh, yeah. Bet I finish it before you!”

And of course she did. Then I read it. And we conferred. Turns out we had very different reactions. She’s listing it now as one of her favorite novels. I’m…not sure what to think. Mr. Shusterman’s story certainly sucked me in and kept me in a constant state of fear and wonder. Does that mean it was good? I don’t know. It certainly means SOMETHING. I was bothered by a few things, though, and they resulted in the following questions.

In a society that takes ultimate advantage of helpless teenagers, how fast do you think those teenagers would trust adults? When two of three main characters seem like they were just tacked onto the story, how do you praise characterization of the one who does seem central and interesting? What sort of world would destroy and usurp the rights of kids who’ve reached the so-called ‘age of reason?’

I know that the first and last question fall into the ‘suspend disbelief’ category. And the middle one…that’s partially a matter of personal opinion. I don’t like to give away anything about a story that you can’t read in the description, so my review is necessarily shallow, and I can’t give concrete examples of these problems. But suffice it to say that while this book made me cringe and think and REACT, I’m not sure I liked it. I’m not sure it’s ‘good.’ I just don’t know. And I think you should read it yourself, make up your mind, and tell me. Because it’s worth the time investment, and I can guarantee a fierce (yes, I said fierce!) read. Good luck!


Sara said...

I really enjoyed this book... it made me think as well!

I totally understand what you are saying about the review being shallow so you don't give anything away, btw. This is a book that is easier to talk about w/someone who has read it!

Tricia said...

At first, I gave this book 4 stars. But then I couldn't stop thinking about it, so I went back and gave it 5 stars. I figured if I couldn't let it go, it must be really good!

Tia said...

I am so with you on "Unwind." I read it, wanted to like it, but just couldn't. The characterization was a big problem for me too. The characters felt kind of flat and confusing. I too struggled with the "suspension of disbelief" - I'm willing to believe a lot, but it still has to make sense within the society we're presented with. I listened to the audiobook of Shusterman's "Everlost" on a long car trip and liked that somewhat better (although I was asleep for part of it).

(p.s. If you're interested, my old review of "Unwind" is available here: http://tiasbook.blogspot.com/2009/04/unwind-by-neal-shusterman.html)

She said...

I read Unwind for RaT and really liked it. I thought it was an interesting take on that whole dystopian thing ;p. I wouldn't call it my favorite ever, ever, but I did like it all the same and definitely felt something after reading it.

I guess with your question one, it makes me think of the Milgram's study where the subjects were asked to shock people into having a 'heart attack' under the direction of one of the experimenters. Crazy situations breed crazy results.

Hope you figure out what you think about it!

Anonymous said...

Interesting review, it sounds like it's worth a read. I'll have to look out for a copy!

Alyce said...

I've been dying to read this one. I've got it requested on PaperBackSwap, so hopefully I'll move up in line quickly there (not likely but I can hope). It's sure to be one that I buy the next time I get a gift card to a book store.

Louise said...

Thanks for recommending this book. Now I have to read it. It sounds very interesting and I love dystopia!

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