Catie's Reviews > Unwind

Unwind by Neal Shusterman
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it was ok
bookshelves: read-in-2011, sci-fi, speculative-fiction, ya, series, audio, book-club-dystopian

I am definitely going to try and take a step back from the ledge here, because I fully realize that I may be the only person on the planet who didn’t enjoy this book. I just finished, so the absolute fury is still fresh, but I think that once it cools, I will be able to say that yeah, this book isn’t so bad. In fact I think that it’s incredibly average in every way. I would give this to a young-un in a heartbeat. It’s fast paced with just a dash of romance, and it will probably initiate a few interesting discussions. I mean it in the best possible way when I say that I can see this book as the basis for a highly popular t.v. show on the CW. I can already see Alex Pettyfer as Connor, Vanessa Hudgens as Risa, and some precociously doughy bespectacled kid as Lev.

This story takes place in a hypothetical United States where a long, brutal war between pro-life supporters and pro-choice supporters has been put to rest by a law that allows parents to “retroactively abort” their children from ages 13-17, by essentially having them sent to “harvest camps” where they are dissected and every part of them is used for transplantation. Let me tell you a few more things about this place:

1) Pro-choice supporters are totally fine with forcing women to carry, birth, and raise children for 13 years, as long as they can be killed after that.

2) Pro-life supporters are totally fine with rounding up teenagers in large numbers and slaughtering them in a medical facility because every part of them is actually still alive!!! Right.

3) It turns out that the pro-lifers are correct in this world. Every part of an unwind IS actually still alive, and has the personality of the person it used to belong to. That cheesy horror movie “Idle Hands” is a highly regarded nonfiction piece here.

4) Doctors are no longer needed because apparently every single disease can now be solved with a transplant.

5) Transplantation complications no longer exist.

6) Unwinding is the major problem facing troubled teens, because apparently the sex trade, drug use, gang violence, child neglect in state facilities, gender selection, child armies, and all of the other major cruelties that we inflict on our children on a daily basis don’t exist in this world.

7) When you have explosive blood, it’s important to avoid bumping into anyone, clapping really hard, or engaging in contact sports, but it’s perfectly fine to run on a treadmill, and enter a BURNING BUILDING to rescue people.

8) Even when your entire body has been removed and no blood supply is reaching your brain, you’re still totally aware. Also, every part of your brain contains your full personality.


We follow Connor, a “troubled” teen submitted by his parents for unwinding; Risa, a ward of the state who is going to be unwound due to budget cuts; and Lev, the child of a religious family who has “tithed” him. The three characters collide on their way to a harvest camp and begin a dangerous flight toward safety.

I don’t think that this book is realistic at all – and I don’t mean that I can’t believe that parents could possibly be so cruel to their own children. Folks, we are far FAR crueler to our children than this!! With all of the topics loosely tied to this book (eg, abortion, child rights, and so forth), I kept expecting it to have a message or a platform of some kind. I kept expecting it to become tied to reality in some way – even some small aspect – that I could latch on to. I think that the closest it came to that was Lev and the clappers. I think that he is the most developed of the characters and displays the most growth out of everyone.

About halfway through this book I realized something: this book isn’t about taking a stand on children’s rights or really about addressing any particular issue at all. It’s a simple adventure story with plenty of action and a bit of horror and romance. And I was doing okay with that. Sure, the characters are all completely one dimensional and I basically couldn’t have cared less about whether they lived or died. And yeah, there are so many crazy suppositions and ideas in this world that I was having an extremely hard time buying into ANY of it. BUT, taken as a simple story with most of the real gruesomeness of the world white washed out, and with characters that are like heroes in training, I could appreciate it in a certain way.

But then…a certain scene happened. A certain scene that was just so over the top callous, gruesome, and horrific and in such a completely unrealistic, highly manufactured way that it felt like the absolute cheapest of cheap shots. Oh no you don’t sir!! I do not appreciate being manipulated! And it really felt like it went downhill quickly from there: cheesy scene after cheesy scene, all designed to wring emotion out of the reader. Unfortunately for me, they all felt entirely manufactured and so unbelievable that I was basically just praying for this book to end.

Perfect Musical Pairing

The Fray – You Found Me

Because this is the song that will play in the opening credits of the CW’s brand new show as a shirtless Alex Pettyfer rescues a baby, angstily punches Roland, passionately kisses Vanessa Hudgens in a bathroom stall, and writes an impassioned letter while a tear slowly tracks down his cheek. As the credits roll to a close, he stands scarred and stoic in front of a ragged band of teens: a folk hero in the making.

I would totally watch that show.
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Reading Progress

June 8, 2011 – Started Reading
June 8, 2011 – Shelved
June 14, 2011 –
June 16, 2011 –
100.0% "Not sure I want to post a review for this book. <spoiler>I hated it.</spoiler>"
June 16, 2011 –
100.0% "Darn you html!"
June 16, 2011 – Shelved as: read-in-2011
June 16, 2011 – Shelved as: sci-fi
June 16, 2011 – Shelved as: ya
June 16, 2011 – Shelved as: speculative-fiction
June 16, 2011 – Shelved as: series
June 16, 2011 – Finished Reading
February 9, 2014 – Shelved as: audio
September 12, 2016 – Shelved as: book-club-dystopian

Comments Showing 1-50 of 59 (59 new)

Tatiana You a reading 2 great books right now - Unwind and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian!

Brandi Oh my word, this book is amazing. Absolutley amazing! The articles that are cited are legit, and when I finished there was an article on MSN about some Georgia (I think) polition calling for miscarriages to be tried as felonies.

Catie Yes, I've been meaning to get to these two beauties for quite some time. I think that I am the last person on the planet to have read them!

I am already on track 2/9 and I like it a lot so far! It's really making me think of Never Let Me Go.

Regina I loved this book. The narration was fantastic (but could have been some odd breathing ;) ) I cannot wait for the sequel, although the ending of this book is satisfing. Can't wait for your thoughts.

Catie The guy has a really deep voice, which is nice, because I turned it up to the "fast" setting and he doesn't sound too squeaky. No bothersome breathing! :)

Regina Haha. I did it on 2x as well.

Regina Yup. I had the same issues, but somehow I abandonned those concerns (which I feel guilty about!). 1. The mischaracterization of the pro-choice side and that either side (pro life and/or pro choice) would accept the unwinding bill. 2. The the majority of parents would accept this and do this to their kids.

I do think it is a good adventure story, which I enjoyed ... alot. I also liked the semi-exploration of how consumers and citizens buy into concepts sold to them by corporations and governments, and do so unquestioningly. The first generation, I don't buy them accepting it. Down the road, however, I thought it was an interesting extreme of how if big corporations are pushing something and/or the government is there is often blind acceptance.

Great review -- I loved your thoughts!

Catie Thanks, Regina. I don't really know why I had such a negative reaction. I mean, I know what bothered me about it, but I think that most people could transcend all of those things to get wrapped up in the story and I couldn't do that either. I guess it just wasn't for me!

Stephen Great review, Catie.

Catie Oh, and also I like your thoughts about society coming to accept and carry on illogical practices just because that's what has historically been done. That's interesting, and I wish that I had thought about that while reading this book too!

Catie Thanks Stephen!

Regina Catie, it kinda bothers me I was able to push past it. I listened to this audio while driving to my parents and driving back. 4 kids, 1 big dog and no husband (he was visiting his family so he was out of the country). Trip shoulda been 2 hours, but each way actually took 4. Anyway, I had to stop this audio a few times b/c I was bothered by the complete mischaracterization of the struggle and beliefs on both sides. But somehow, I just got sucked into the struggle. The story had almost everything I love about the dystopian genre -- and perhaps a coming rebellion and apocalypse. And thanks. :) For some reason while listening I kept thinking of examples of where people just accept certain things and it is actually destructive to them or their family.

Catie I wouldn't feel weird about it - I just read a book that, by the ending, seemed completely unrealistic to me. However, I was so completely involved with the characters and the story that I still loved it and I found that I was able to put aside my disbelief. I've had that happen a few times.

Wendy Darling Hm. Still should read this sometime, but I am definitely tempering my expectations. I appreciate the thorough analysis, Catie!

Catie Anytime! :)

I bet you'll probably like it anyway, though!

Heidi (Yup. Still here.) I understand why people don't like this one. I just went with it (although I hesitated at first).

Catie I don't really understand why people like this one, but I can definitely respect it. I like a ton of books that other people can't appreciate (because they're idiots, obviously). ;)

Catie Kidding!

Just in case that wasn't carried through by the text and emoticons.

message 19: by Regina (last edited Jun 16, 2011 06:55PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Regina Thanks for the clarification! ;)

message 20: by Heidi (Yup. Still here.) (last edited Jun 16, 2011 08:02PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Heidi (Yup. Still here.) Catie wrote: "I don't really understand why people like this one, but I can definitely respect it. I like a ton of books that other people can't appreciate (because they're idiots, obviously). ;)"

I knew you were kidding. I could have seriously gone either way with this one. I could have really hated it or liked it as I did (not loved it - I did not feel that strongly about it). I just made the decision at some point to overlook the things that would have made me hate it. Not sure why I was able to do that with this book. Perhaps it is because I am a relationship type reader and if I can invest myself with the characters sometimes I just go with it.

Catie Oh, I am too for the most part. If I can really buy in to the characters and their struggles, then I can let inconsistencies go. Although, I guess scientific inaccuracies tend to bother me more than others. (Probably because with others, I don't know any better!)

message 22: by Chichipio (new)

Chichipio LOL. Loved the explanation about the musical pairing. Are you sure you're not a CW writer?

Catie Thanks!

No, sadly I do not have writing skills or training of any kind. Good thing Goodreads doesn't mind that I am a total fraud!

I really wasn't kidding when I said that I would watch that show, btw.

Cassi aka Snow White Haggard Even though I overall decided that I liked this book, I'm glad to see someone point out some of the same concerns I had, especially as to the Bill to Life. I found that really unrealistic and it was central to the whole novel. It probably should have brought down my rating but I had fun reading it.

Catie I think that a lot of people agree with you Cassi!

I'm not sure why I couldn't get into the characters or the story. I guess I felt like every scene that was designed to elicit an emotional response from me was so unrealistic that I couldn't buy into it.

However, if you had fun reading it, then that's all that really matters. As I said before, I like a few unrealistic books myself.

Cassi aka Snow White Haggard I did have fun reading it which is why I ultimately left it at a 4 but even in my review I wondered if I should. There were some basic things that didn't make sense.

Your's is the first review I've read that noted the same problem I had with the Bill of Life (though interestingly I thought about it more from the pro-life standpoint and you from the pro-choice)

Catie Yeah, I really like how you reference the Judeo-Christian tradition to support that the sacrificing of teenagers would not be accepted.

Cassi aka Snow White Haggard Catie wrote: "Yeah, I really like how you reference the Judeo-Christian tradition to support that the sacrificing of teenagers would not be accepted."

You can thank my awesome college Old Testament professor for that. He was really good and his tests were really hard.

Even though people write & try to pull in Biblical elements/religion, sometimes you can tell that they don't really know that much. Not that I blame them, the Bible cover to cover gets very tedious.

Regina I am not sure it is tied to religion though. I think religion reflects that it is an aberration to kill one's child, particularly one we have worked so hard to raise and care for. I think this would be in any culture. For me in general, I had a hard time accepting that any parent would accept this is a coping strategy, especially those in the first generation after the bill is in effect. But I completely agre Catie and Cassi, that a christian church would not accepting "tithing" as represented in this book as a religious tenet! That was super far fetched in my opinion.

I do think it is interesting that there is a judeo-christian historical story for this -- the story of Abraham where god calls on him to sacrifice his son and Abraham is willing to do it for god. :) I forgot if this was referenced in Unwind?

Cassi aka Snow White Haggard You should read my review Regina, I mention that. It was Abraham and Isaac and God didn't make Abraham kill his son. It was just a test. One of the things that differentiated Judaism from other religions way back in the day was the lack of human sacrifice.

Here's my review:
Here's a link to more on wikipedia about the incident:

But there is no human sacrifice aside from the one test of Abraham's faith. (And that was just a test, an angel stopped him)

This story was never referenced in Unwind Because it wouldn't have worked very well with the story at all.

message 31: by Regina (last edited Jun 19, 2011 10:34AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Regina Cassi I know the outcome of the story, lol. ;) It is quite well known and I have read it a number of times. But thank you for the links about the story and to your reivew, I plan to read your review. I disagree though, I do think it could have worked well, because the book is already pushing the limits of reality, biology, parental love, representation of religion (i.e the condoning of the practice and the tithing) etc. Even though in though it is represented in the myth that Abraham is stopped and doesn't go through with it, since Neal is already twisting everything I am surprised that he didn't make a play on that and use it an example of where the judeo christian god will intervene and stop such a practice when it is not necessary. However, it is clear that Neal didn't get textual with anything -- either side of the abortion debate or the true meaning of tithing in churches are just two examples.

Regina Cassi I just read your review and I agree completely with you. It is funny that so many of us had a similar reaction and were able to put it aside. I have to say it did bother me but for some reason I loved the story so much. But this entire discussion is making me not want to read the sequel, I guess it helps that the book was wrapped up so neatly in the end.

What did you all think of the colonel (I think that was his title, I don't remember)? Is he redeemable by the facts that (view spoiler) I my mind, no he is not. I tend to be very forgiving, but his two crimes (view spoiler) are not crimes I can forgive.

Cassi aka Snow White Haggard That's a good question. I've never considered whether he is redeemable or not.


Regina My initial feeling is that if he is doing good, who am I to judge? It is not my place. But honestly, I can't get past it.

Catie I know that I am a big negative Nancy over here, but when they were on that railroad, and at the Admiral's camp, I just kept thinking about all of the kids that are abandoned or run away from abuse, or are just trying to travel toward a better life, and have to deal with so much worse. That whole trip that they take seems like such a shallow/whitewashed spin on teenage runaways. Even the conflict with the Admiral seemed manufactured. I think that it would have gone a long way for me if he had at least some selfish motive...or even if the book dealt at all with the thousands of kids that probably had a much harder time.

I guess I ended up not caring whether he was redeemed or not - he seemed like such an unrealistic one dimensional character to me.

I love all this discussion about Abraham! I can see both sides: I think that he definitely wasn't trying to take a stand on anything with this book, but I am also surprised that it's not even mentioned since it seems to tie in so perfectly with the whole premise. I wonder if that story was part of his inspiration even?

Regina I think you make a good point Catie. Well,honestly I don't think he was trying to make a deeper point so perhaps that is why he doesn't reference the story. But when the relgious leader (rabbi? sorry when I listen to books I am not able to hold names/titles in my mind) convinced the tithed child's parents not to make it known that their child was gone and that his dissapearance was an act of god, that seems to me a great plce to put in the story of Abraham. But perhaps also, in the way Neal was waffling on the abortion debate, he also didn't want to get enmeshed in a religious one.

Catie Yes! I completely agree. I think that this book is an adventure/horror/romance story, about kids becoming heroes. It's not striving to have too much of a stand on anything in particular.

Cassi aka Snow White Haggard I agree that he wasn't trying to take a stand. It seems like he tried to keep his own personal opinion out of it.

Heidi (Yup. Still here.) Well if anything this book brought up a good discussion. Indifference is a book killer IMO. I would rather really hate it than not really care either way.

Catie Agreed :)

Giselle I just read this review last night and you are not alone!! I gave this one star. Awfulsauce!!

Catie Yeah, I didn't absolutely hate it Giselle. I think that it just wasn't for me!

message 43: by Tara (last edited Aug 14, 2012 02:12AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tara Great review Catie!!

Catie Thanks Tara!

message 45: by Maya (new) - rated it 3 stars

Maya I think I understand where you're coming from. I just started this book, but I'm struggling with the world building ... it seems way too unrealistic to take seriously ... well, the writing itself is rather nice, so I'm trying to enjoy it for the adventure story without questioning the backgrounds too much.

Catie Interesting Maya - I think this one really tends to divide people into two camps. I look forward to seeing which one you end up in!

Megan Great review and well said Catie! I didn't care for this book either, for all of the reasons you stated above. (view spoiler)

Catie (view spoiler)

I love all the questions you brought up in your review too, Megan. I feel like he was so focused on this one issue - unwinding - that he ignored every other issue in the world, as if this one thing would eclipse all others somehow. I can't believe I didn't read your review until now!

message 49: by Megan (last edited Jul 23, 2012 08:54PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Megan (view spoiler)

This book is great for bringing up discussions, but not always the discussions Shusterman may have intended, lol. Are you reading the sequel?

message 50: by Maya (last edited Jul 23, 2012 09:03PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Maya (view spoiler)

I dunno, with the ongoing real discussion on organ transplantation I just feel that the book could have tackled the issue in a much more fulfilling way, that actually lets you take away something to reflect on.

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