I wanted to like this book. I really, really did. It almost hurt to be so consistently annoyed while reading it, because I had such high hopes for it....moreI wanted to like this book. I really, really did. It almost hurt to be so consistently annoyed while reading it, because I had such high hopes for it.
Unwind is like abstract art, in the sense that it looks great when you look at the whole picture, but once you start looking at different parts separately, you notice that, hey, eyes aren't normally on people's foreheads. And why does this nose have three nostrils?
And just like abstract art, sometimes a book's distinctiveness works, and sometimes it falls flat.
Unwind is in the second category.
On the surface, the idea is fascinating: the world, following a war between Pro-Life and Pro-Choice armies, has become a dystopia where kids between ages thirteen and eighteen can be "Unwound"--a procedure where a teenager is taken apart piece by piece and used for transplanting. Parents who decide, for whatever reason, that they no longer want their child can sign an agreement to have their child Unwound, and the child gets no say in it at all.
In short, the idea is absolutely amazing.
On the surface, the characters are interesting as well. Connor is short-tempered and quick to turn violent when he gets angry, until his parents decide that they can't deal with his constant fights anymore and agree to have him Unwound. Risa is a talented musician who lives in a state home until they decide to Unwind her because they're running out of room. And Lev is a tithe, a child raised for the sole purpose of being Unwound, and who is raised to believe that being a tithe is a pure and honourable thing. And the side characters all have their own interesting histories and personalities as well.
Sounds fascinating, right? And then you look a little deeper, and that's when things start to fall apart.
The society in Unwind makes no sense. To avoid spoilers, I'll be as vague as possible. But it is unbelievable that parents will simply tire of their kids after thirteen or more years, and decide to Unwind them, just because the child might have some problems. I mean, by that point, you've already had them for a rather long time, and have presumably developed some sort of attachment to them, right? How likely is it that you'll just shrug, say "Oh, well, I tried," and then have them hauled off to essentially be killed for parts? That doesn’t sound like good parenting. Heck, that sounds rather sociopathic.
The characters fare no better to careful scrutiny. They all seem to be defined by one or two main characteristics, and are disappointingly flat and boring. Connor is short-tempered, therefore we always see him trying to control his temper. Risa is the Smart Girl, so we see her doing Smart Girl stuff. Lev is the only one whose personality changes over the course of the book, but, since we only ever see the end product, and not the change itself, Lev’s transformation wasn’t nearly as powerful as it could have been. And to be honest, not seeing it happen left me feeling kind of cheated.
Then we get to the writing. I was debating not mentioning anything about it, on the basis of everyone having different tastes in what they consider good or bad writing, but it was a very big part in why I disliked this book. So just keep in mind that this is my opinion, and that everyone is perfectly free to disagree with me.
And so, the writing.
One of the first things budding writers are told is "show, don't tell." Shusterman doesn't do this. If a character is angry, we're told that he's angry. If a character is upset, we're told that she's upset. It gets irritating after a while, because we're never shown that a character is, say, gritting their teeth so hard that their jaw hurts, just because they don't want to say anything they'll regret. No, we're told that So-and-so decides not to say anything.
My second issue is the point of view. The book is written in present tense, which I don't generally love, but it isn't an automatic dealbreaker. Except here, every so often, we’ll see something that’s in past tense for no reason. It’s distracting, and it kept breaking me out of the story to backtrack and figure out if something happened in the past, or if the author was just messing around with the tenses. Also, every so often we switch from the character telling the story through their point of view, to having the narrator say something that the character could never know (“So-and-so’s shoulder hurts, but he doesn’t know it’s because of [reason]” is an almost exact quote from the book). The first time it happened, it confused me and threw me out of the story. And I’ll be honest: I hate having to stop halfway through a scene to figure out if I’m actually in a character’s head, or if the narrator is omniscient/all-knowing/not actually the character. Because while it’s not a major thing, my inner editor still rages whenever it happens. And an angry inner editor means an annoyed me as I’m reading.
My second and last issue with the point of view is that we get pivotal scenes in the point of view of some character who we’ll never see again once the scene is over. Like the scene where we see the first major change in Lev. I would have loved to be in Lev’s head at that point, to see how he’s feeling throughout, but I wasn’t. Instead, I was in the head of some shopkeeper who I didn’t care about, and who never showed up after that one scene was over. And yes, that’s one of the scenes where I felt cheated. I wanted to know what Lev was thinking, and what he was feeling throughout the scene. But that didn’t happen, and it was kind of disappointing.
But it wasn’t all bad, even though it might seem like it from all the ranting I just did. And so I’d like to touch on the good things about the writing. Because I’ll always give credit where it’s due.
First of all, Shusterman’s dialogue is amazing. The characters talk like real people, and even the characters with accents and odd speech patterns sound realistic. So there’s definite kudos for that.
Also, despite its flaws, the book was a quick read. There was action and tension, and when I just focused on surface things and didn’t think about everything too deeply, it was a very enjoyable read.
So, in short, I can and do recommend this book. If you’re looking for a quick read based around an interesting premise, try it out. If you’re looking for something thought-provoking--where you can analyze and pick apart what you read--you may want to look elsewhere. (less)
**spoiler alert** While I'll happily profess my undying love for The Hunger Games, I've never been a big fan of dystopias. Unwind annoyed me, and made...more**spoiler alert** While I'll happily profess my undying love for The Hunger Games, I've never been a big fan of dystopias. Unwind annoyed me, and made me rant and rave the entire way through. And then there was Divergent. Let's not talk about Divergent.
Shatter Me is a dystopia. It follows Juliette, a teenager who can drain the life out of anyone she touches directly (skin-to-clothing contact is perfectly safe, however). After she accidentally kills a child, she's locked up for almost a full year before she gets a cellmate. His name is Adam, and he's sexy. Adam used to be her classmate when she was a kid. After meeting Adam in her jail cell, Juliette is taken out of prison by a psychopath man named Warner, who is obsessed with her, and who wants to use her as a weapon in his attempt to impress his father take over the world.
Adam is Juliette's designated love interest. He even has a tattoo of a bird that Juliette has been obsessing about hoping to see through her prison window since she was first imprisoned. So their relationship is obviously Meant To Be. Hands up if you didn't see that coming. Anyone? No? Good. Let's move on, then.
The romance between Adam and Juliette is not believableridiculous unlikely. Juliette has a crush on Adam because he used to be the only person in her childhood who didn't think she was a freak. Adam has a crush on her because she was nice to other people when she was a child--and this crush, apparently, is the driving force behind him volunteering to be her prison keeper for Warner. Now, maybe I'm just not typical, but I've never been compelled to get involved in the lives of my childhood crushes. Especially not the ones who have life-sucking abilities and have to be locked away so that they don't kill people. But maybe I'm the weird one here.
But let's move on to Warner. Warner is our designated antagonist, and he's a rather fascinating disturbing piece of work. He's obsessed with Juliette, and seems to think that forcing himself on her will make her love him. And every time she rejects him, it only makes him more determined to "win" her love for the next time. He also repeatedly forces Juliette into using her powers, even though she keeps insisting that she doesn't want to kill anyone. Warner has no redeeming quality whatsoever, and I would have liked to see something vaguely positive about him, so that it would make it harder for me to root for his eventual demise.
The world itself also left something to be desired. It's basically a post-Global Warming world, where animals are sick and dying, people are sick and dying--and hell, the planet itself is sick and dying too. The world is practically a desert, and the air quality is poor at best. Also, there are no birds--Juliette makes a point of mourning the lack of birds. The world is ruled by an organization called The Reestablishment, which wants to homogenize the world and destroy all vestiges of culture and individuality. Except for when it just wants people to starve to death. Although I guess the two goals aren't mutually exclusive.
The writing style also merits discussing. The writing is experimental, and it's full of strikethroughs that are meant to show Juliette's true thoughts vs her expressed ones. I didn't mind the strikethroughs as much as other reviewers did, and I actually kind of liked them. What bothered me, however, were the constant, bizarre metaphors that I think were meant to be deep and meaningful, but that I had to keep rereading because they made no sense at all. There were also some strange repeats where Juliette repeats repeats repeats things a few times in a row for emphasis--except, she repeats things at weird places where there really isn't any need for emphasis. Which makes the technique fall flat.
I didn't hate the book, but it fell firmly into the "meh" category. I do not intend to read the sequel.(less)
Generations ago, aliens called Hoots invaded Earth. Hoots have very weak legs, so they started breeding humans to use as mounts. Some humans resisted...moreGenerations ago, aliens called Hoots invaded Earth. Hoots have very weak legs, so they started breeding humans to use as mounts. Some humans resisted and fled to the mountains where the Hoots don't care to pursue them, but others are still being actively bred and trained in Hoot compounds. There are the muscular Seattles, the lean and skinny Tennessees, and the in-betweens: the nothings, who are of no value to the Hoots.
Charley is a Seattle, the child of some of the most famous Seattles in history, and he's proud of it. His life goal is to be the best mount possible, and he's well on his way to his goal when he gets chosen as the mount of his new Little Master, a baby Hoot who happens to be the Hoots' future ruler. But when Charley's home compound is attacked by Wild Humans--wild humans led by Charley's escapee father--Charley's entire life is thrown on its head. Instead of learning to be a good mount, Charley must now learn how to be a good human.
The Mount is a hard book to rate. It's an uncomfortable book that takes a very hard look at predator-prey and symbiotic relationships, where humans are on the losing end of the relationship, and it's a book where you never quite know who to root for. Do you root for Charley, the brainwashed preteen who feels more comfortable with his Hoot host than his own people, and who touts his own lineage while simultaneously looking down at everyone who doesn't fit into his worldview? Do you root for Charley's father, a man who can never really articulate his feelings and motivations and who remains something of a mystery throughout the entire novel? Or do you root for Little Master, who as a Hoot and an alien would technically be a villain?
The Hoot's treatment of humans, and Charley's internalized distaste toward everyone who isn't a purebred Seattle, parallels some very prominent human tendencies, but it does so in a way that is both fascinating and slightly uncomfortable to read about. The book is written to highlight how a mount thinks, and it does this well. But the writing style disengages you at the same time. You can't really relate to the main character, because the character himself isn't allowed to relate to anything aside from how he has been taught is the proper way to think. This makes the book a surprisingly unemotional read. But the writing is strong, which I think makes up for it.
This wasn't a perfect book by any means. As mentioned, the disengaging writing made it hard to immerse myself in the story. Some of the technological parts seemed fairly unlikely as well (view spoiler)[How do airplanes still work after all these years? And how has the knowledge to fly them survived after so long? (hide spoiler)], but none of these really detracted from the book. For me, at least. This is definitely a book where you have to read it for yourself to see what you can take away from it.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)