BOOK REVIEW: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

★★★★★ 5/5

A fantastic start to a fantastic series. First, I have to say, the Unwind Dystology is my favorite book series, and it all started with Unwind back in high school. I loved it then, but I love it even more since the series has been completed. It. Is. A. Masterpiece. Now on to my feelings about this first book.

Unwind is an emotional roller coaster. It's dystopian to be sure, but it also has a thriller/horror aspect to it. There is never a slow moment in the story because our main characters are always on the run. They're always being chased. Their lives are in danger. They are supposed to be unwound, and that, my friends, is a scary concept.

I've noticed Neal Shusterman likes to deal with heavy concepts that lean toward the metaphysical. Death. what happens after we die? They say that unwinding, having all of your body parts taken apart piece by piece, is living in a divided state, but who wants to take the risk to find out if you are, in fact, still living?

Officially, unwinding is a way to deal with troubled teens. Parents can sign an unwind order for any of their teenagers before they turn eighteen. Once unwound, these delinquent teens will be doing something good for the world. Their body parts will be given to people who are good and hard working, people who support society but are in need of, say, an arm or maybe an organ transplant. An Unwind's body parts could also be sold off to the highest bidder, a rich person who maybe wants a different eye color. I mean, there's also illegal unwindings and parts pirates. All of the flesh trade! That's the general idea. Cool, right? (Except not. That's pretty scary!)

My first thought when I learned about unwinding was, uh, yeah, that's killing someone! If my parents signed an unwind order for me when I was a teen, I would have run away and become an AWOL Unwind like our main characters in the book--except not all of the characters became AWOLs willingly.

Neal builds the foundation of a fascinating world in this novel with our three main characters. Connor, Risa, and Lev come from very different backgrounds, but they all find themselves in the same situation of being AWOL Unwinds. Connor is a delinquent teen. Risa is a ward of the state. Lev is a tithe. Connor is a hotheaded kid who did typical teen things, but his parents felt he was getting out of hand and signed an unwind order. Risa is level-headed, smart, and barely missed the cutoff to prove that she was worthy enough to escape unwinding. She did everything in her power to avoid the unwind order to no avail. Their situations are terrible to be sure. Connor demonstrates why parents would sign an unwind order (which I think is wrong no matter the situation). Risa demonstrates the life of a ward and how they have to fight each other to escape automatic unwinding for being an unwanted kid in the first place (survival of the fittest). Then there's Lev.

Lev's parents gave birth to him with the sole intention of offering him as an Unwind when he came of age. That's why he's called a tithe. They're giving back. And he has been raised to believe that he has a sacred duty by being a tithe. He was excited, counting down the days until he was unwound. This concept alone kind of killed me inside. How does that seem okay at all? And yet, religion or not, people do some crazy things. We all come from different places and believe in different things. Our eyes are opened and our opinions change when we see more and more of the world. Lev (Risa and Connor too of course) gets a piece of that in this story, and he starts to change because of it. It's the beginning of a long transformation that spans all the books in the series, and it is one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever read. To the darkest depths and struggling back to the light. That is Lev's journey in the series.

I love fiction for the escape, but fiction like this is my favorite because it’s right on the cusp of reality. It makes you think because it has so many parallels to reality. Specifically, the questions Neal asks concerning what is morally right or wrong, what it means to live in a divided state, and death, are explored throughout the series. Neal doesn't give you the answers. He only explores these questions through this world and his characters. Sometimes there isn't a right answer, but people continue to search and fight for what they believe in. Because that's humanity.

This is the book that shot Neal Shusterman up to my #1 favorite author back in high school. I had never read anything that left such a heavy impression on me before, and I've had quite a few books I've loved! Neal has been my favorite author for years now. I buy his books on the day they are released, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

I can't recommend Unwind enough. It's one of those stories everyone should read.

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