Thursday, March 31

Unwind - Neal Shusterman

Although he knew it was possible, Connor never believed his parents would make him an Unwind, until he found the paperwork. He plans to run - if he can survive until his eighteenth birthday he'll be safe.
Pianist Risa knew she'd blown her latest assessment; as a ward of the state she's only required to be supported as long as she's exceptional - now she's not, she's an Unwind.
Lev grew up knowing he was a Tithe, the tenth child of religious family who've chosen to give back to the community. All his life he's been prepared for the day after his thirteenth birthday when, after a tithing party to celebrate his joyous sacrifice, his body parts would be reallocated to worthy recipients, allowing him - in a way - to live forever.
A bloody Civil War between the Life Army and the Choice Brigade was resolved when a compromise was suggested - life is sacred from conception to age thirteen, but for the five years until children reaches adulthood their parents may retrospectively abort them, provided the child doesn't technically die. Known as Unwinding, the unwanted teen's organs are redistributed according to need and merit. Three youths of different backgrounds are thrown together by chance, and have the potential to make a difference.
Unwind has a fascinating premise (though the idea that either side would see this compromise as acceptable, this is acknowledged in the text), and a new twist on this months' inadvertent theme of teens in dystopia. There are some lovely moments, chief among which was the letter writing scene in the Unwind underground railway sequence.
There's also some imagining of the consequences of this policy: without termination an option for unwanted pregnancies, society has created 'storking' - leaving a baby on the doorstep of a stranger, who is then obliged to take it in, a practice that has its own consequences. There's a mythology around Humphrey Dunfee, whose distraught and repentant parents tried to reconstitute him post-Unwinding. And there's social commentary, including an observation that, were it not for Unwinds, science would be working on improving health instead of relying on quick patch-ups (with the assumption that immunosuppressent medications have been improved between now and then). Finally, opening each chapter is a news extract or factual nugget supporting the direction the narrative takes from that point. This last reminded me a little of Tepper's Gibbon's Decline and Fall.
It's a little distressing, then, that I found the whole delivered less than the promise of its parts. I think this may be because more attention was paid to the world-building than the characters - I just didn't warm to the central trio, and found reading the novel more an exercise of intellectual interest than engagement. - Alex

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