Maya's Reviews > Unwind

Unwind by Neal Shusterman
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's review
Jul 09, 2012

liked it
Read from July 06 to 08, 2012

It just so happens that a few weeks ago I watched a TV show hosting a discussion panel about organ donation. If you're interested, a new law has been voted that will obligate every German citizen above the age of 16 to choose whether he does or does not want to become an organ donor after his death. Before you were never forced to confront the issue and could ignore it. Now you will have to consciously decide and accept the consequences of either decision.
So, they had this panel with specialists and concerned people, physicians, family members of donors and those who received donated organs, sitting in a circle, just talking for what felt like hours, discussing the pros and cons of the new law and of organ donation in general.
I ended up watching the whole thing. I was captivated, I was emotionally shaken and it put me into a real dilemma. They brought up things I had never thought about or which I simply didn't know and I couldn't decide which "side" I was on. I kept thinking about the whole thing after the TV show was finished and will think about it again and again, at the latest when I sign my own declaration.

Along comes this book, which I bought because I heard it's one of the better YA dystopias, and which just happens to have organ donation as one of its central themes. And in that aspect it does absolutely nothing for me. Why? It's obviously not a subject I simply do not care about. After pondering this for the last days the answer I came up with is that the way this issue is addressed in Unwind is not only way over-the-top, but also so far removed from any of the real, realistic controversies and problems organ donation causes that I couldn't take anything away from it to reflect on in real life. In one or two sentences the author mentions the possible trauma of family members who signed the declaration of consent, but never really gets into that in a fulfilling way.

I struggled a lot with the world-building. The basic idea of unwinding and the historical background for it didn't convince me. Why any of these two factions would agree with the solution proposed here is absolutely beyond me, on the contrary, if they were to agree on anything at all, it's the fact that this one is not the solution. Well, sure, human beings can be really nuts, but even the most committed promoters of organ donation seem unlikely to believe that the person doing the donating is still “alive but simply in pieces, so it's ok to use healthy young children for it”, so I can't even imagine a world where everybody would be perfectly fine with that reasoning. Well, in the book it is explained with (view spoiler)

Going beyond the world-building, I had another problem with the characters of Connor, Roland or the troublesome teenagers in general. In a world where every child knows that he can practically be killed before his 18th birthday, I'd imagine kids to act much smarter. With a constant death threat over your head, even the most rebellious and aggressive teens would probably try very hard to get their act together, would they not?

Well, I figured that if I've been mostly able to ignore the porous world-building of Delirium, I could do that for Unwind as well and focus my attention on the adventure survival story of the children. I did appreciate that Shusterman came up with many different reasons for children to be "unwound". But once the consequences of the world-building, that is to say the possibility of getting people's part randomly and freely attached to your body, become a major plot point later in the book, ignoring it got more and more difficult.

I had a really hard time accepting the (view spoiler), not to mention that this reunion scene, or actually both reunions scenes, were quite cheesy and over-dramatic.

The lengthy philosophizing over the definition of a "soul", which is ultimately also a central issue of this work, was pretty much lost on me. The book didn't provide any new impulses or viewpoints for my already found answers to those issues. Granted, it is probably done well enough to get most of the teenage readers this book is aimed at to think a little about the subject and criticizing it from an adult's point of view is a bit unfair.

The above average writing quality really helped my enjoyment of the book. There are some nice dialogues and descriptions that made me get through the scenes I didn't like much easier than in other books. But in the end, writing can only balance out so much ...

Taking a look at what the positive reviews say and why my impression differs from theirs, I guess that being a parent will probably change how this book feels to you. Some have addressed that it touchingly shows the helplessness of children vis-à-vis their parents and adults in general, who will abuse them, use them and make decisions over their heads. I admit I didn't think about this much while reading. It is a wonderful thing to take away with you, to reflect on for your own daily behavior, but for me other issues were so much more present; they overshadowed a general "we have to protect our children" message. F.ex. A Certain Slant of Light impressed me much more in that way.

And then there's this one scene that was a real deal breaker for me, but extremely impressive and emotional for others. Of course I'm talking about Roland. (view spoiler) It was like Delirium all over again, in which you're told "omg, look, they operated her on her brain, while she was conscious omg!" and all I think is "so? Your brain doesn't feel pain?". Obviously the scene worked much better for other readers and how you respond to it will have a big influence on your enjoyment of Unwind.

In the end I'm still not sure how to rate this. I liked many scenes, mostly those that didn't concern the central issues of the book, which is kind of beside the point, but still enough for a solid 3 star rating, if it hadn't been for that final scene. I enjoyed Unwind less than Ship Breaker yet more than Delirium and goodreads rating system doesn't let me reflect that.

Unwind is not a bad book, but the above mentioned things all together made me unable to enjoy it as much as I would have liked. It is worth trying out, because it is still one of the better YA dystopias (at least it isn't one of those love stories masquerading as dystopia). It will probably get especially younger readers to think about issues they haven't been confronted with yet. However I also want to warn you that it is pretty dark and gruesome. My 15-year-old teenage self would have probably had a hard time stomaching all these organ transplants and chopping apart of children. So, not recommended for the youngest readers or those with a weak stomach. All the others must check this out for themselves because it is a very polarizing book and you might just be one of those who love it.
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Quotes Maya Liked

Neal Shusterman
“...the first sign of civilization is always trash.”
Neal Shusterman, Unwind

Neal Shusterman
“Because if their own parents didn't care enough about them to keep them, who would want them in Heaven?”
Neal Shusterman, Unwind

Reading Progress

07/06 page 19
6.0% "time for a genre change after all the fantasy. ... Connor is definitely not the smartest boy around =/"
07/07 page 39
12.0% "the world-building makes no sense at all ... but the atmosphere is rather nice."
07/08 page 209
62.0% "mmh, I don't like where this Admiral thing is going ..."
07/08 page 240
72.0% "not happy with this development v.v"
08/07 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Tina ui freu mich auf deine Meinung, habs noch aufm SuB

Maya sehr schwer zu bewerten das Buch ^^

Catie Very interesting review Maya. I couldn't agree with you more about the scene with Roland. Ugh. So sensationalized and exaggerated! Exactly right! I am a parent and I still didn't like this book, haha.

Maya I think it's really a crucial scene that is hit-or-miss for each reader. I don't believe anybody can be neutral about it.
And ... sensationalized! that's the word I couldn't find in the dictionary. thanks XD

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