Posted February 9, 2012 by Tara in Challenges /// 21 Comments

Let's talk about covers that appeal to all kids: this is one really good example.

by Neal Schusterman
Simon and Schuster
Purchased from book fair
[#13 in my 75 book challenge]

Okay. Y’all were right. This is a really good book! YA dystopia is my comfort genre, which is no surprise to anyone who reads this blog. Unwind is a great example of why I love the genre so much!

The story takes place about 60/70 years in the future, around the time that modern teenagers would be the oldest generation. Years before, the country was divided in the Heartland War, a vicious battle between the pro-life and pro-choice camps on the abortion issue. To compromise, a law is written that all children must be born and cared for until the age of thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, a child’s parent or guardian can sign the order to have the child unwound. The child is sent to a top-secret harvest camp, where 99.44% of his or her body parts are redistributed to save the lives of people in need.

Children are sent to be unwound for a variety of reasons, but we meet three at the beginning of this story that become our central protagonists:

  • Connor is being unwound because of his rebellious nature. He’s a troublmaker, and his parents have given up on caring about him.
  • Risa is a ward of the state, being unwound due to budget cuts. She thought her piano skills would be enough to make her worth “keeping,” but she doesn’t make the cut.
  • Lev is a tithe. As the tenth child of a very religious family, he was born for the purpose of being donated as an unwind.

These three unwinds meet up and try to escape their fate. After reading Crossed, I was expecting 335 pages of running, hiding, journeying, and escaping. The first fifty pages or so made me think that’s where it was all going, and I was preparing to be sorely disappointed in the novel.

NOT THE CASE. OMG, there were twists and turns galore! Secrets and all sorts of things not being as they originally appeared. Unwinds, by their very nature, don’t trust anyone. They are bitter, angry, and troubled. Each character goes through both an emotional and physical journey that defied cliches and continually surprised me.

Schusterman tackles some weighty topics, but he never picks sides and he shows more than he tells about the issues. I mean, we’re talking about the issue of abortion, the human soul, organ donation, and religion in a fast-paced teen novel. The world-building is done well, and I was impressed with the imagination and logic used in the story-telling to make it all fit together. Some of the occurrences that initially required a leap of faith to accept were explained by the end of the story, and others made more sense once I understood the world these kids were living in.

Oh, and one more thing before I give my final verdict: there is a scene in this book that was truly bizarre and horrifying. Remember when I said that a scene in Okay for Now was the most disturbing I’d ever read in literature? And the end of Before I Die left me stunned? Combine the emotions and shock factor from those into one and you get the scene in this book that left me speechless thinking, “I can’t believe he wrote it like that!” But he needed to write it like that and it has a HUGE impact. If you’ve read the book, you know what I mean. If you haven’t read the book…go read it. Trust me.

FINAL GRADE:   A   I love giving A’s to books! I love a good book with twists and complex, believable characters. Unwind delivers both. Schusterman, you’ve stolen my little reading heart and I will be back for more. I will also be buying multiple copies for my library (we only have one). This would make a great read for an eighth grade/high school book club, as there is plenty to discuss! I will definitely be recommending it left and right, and I already have a few students in mind who need to take it home ASAP.

(I love my job because I get to spend all day geeking out about YA books with actual YA’s!)


Tara is a PhD student studying education. Her dissertation will be on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life, she's a professor of YA lit. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

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21 responses to “Unwind

  1. OMG I know just the scene you’re talking about. Imagine listening to it on audiobook!

    So glad you loved this book and are going to be buying more copies for the library. I’m excited for the long awaited sequel!

    • Miss Anderson

      Do read it! The first 50 pages were kind of like “okay…” but once it took off I was totally hooked. I also loved that this is sort of a gender-neutral book and could be enjoyed by everyone. Those are usually the most popular types of books in my library.

  2. Totally jealous of your job! 🙂 Out of curiosity: Do any of your students read your blog? Do they eagerly take your recommendations at school? I know some kids fight reading like everything else academic. I was wondering what your experience was.

    • Miss Anderson

      My students do not read my blog. I have pondered giving them the link for some time, but i decided that I didn’t want to have to censor my opinions too much. If they find it on their own, great! The biggest factor is that I’m more open about my sexuality on here than I am with my students. I’m totally out to my coworkers, but we still live in a culture where it’s “inappropriate” for me to tell my students that I have a girlfriend.

      • That’s probably wise of you, and I figured as much because of the already sensitive teacher-student relationship. Schools might consider that kind of disclosure inappropriate/troubling, and not just the lesbian thing—the blog thing. Considering how much they’re already fretting over kids going on the Internet and all … 🙂

        But whatever, that just means you have an awesome life as a librarian and an awesome SECRET life as a librarian blogger!

  3. This is going on my “to read” list, too! I’m curious…have you ever read “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro? This sounds like it has some major similarities and if you have read both, I’d be interested to hear if they are comprable at all in terms of execution.