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)
I read this a couple years ago. Here's what I remember:
-I was bored to tears by the last 50 or so pages, especially the scenes involving Kellhus and h...moreI read this a couple years ago. Here's what I remember:
-I was bored to tears by the last 50 or so pages, especially the scenes involving Kellhus and his father -I really, REALLY hated Kellhus as a character. He was a cruel, manipulative ass, and it drove me crazy that all the other characters seemed to fall head-over-heels over him -I felt bad for Cnaiur, for some reason that I can't remember anymore
That's it, unfortunately. The first two books were pretty good, and I recall there being suspense and excitement in this one as well (even though I can't remember what actually happened), but the ending itself was incredibly disappointing. (less)
Not a bad book by any means, but it was just so SLOW. It took so long for all the viewpoints to get established that it felt like the real story didn'...moreNot a bad book by any means, but it was just so SLOW. It took so long for all the viewpoints to get established that it felt like the real story didn't start until about 80-100 pages in. And the viewpoint changes could be jarring: whenever a scene became really tense for one of the characters, it was almost a sure bet that the viewpoint would switch to someone else.
That said, however, I liked the book, and I fully intend to read the next one in this trilogy.(less)