Unwind by Neal Shusterman


Goodreads: Unwind
Series: Unwind #1
Source: Library
Published: 2007


After the Second Civil War, the U.S. chose to protect life until a person reaches the age of 13.  Between the ages of 13-18, however, a teenager can legally be Unwound–killed for their body parts so that they can go on “living” by helping others.  Connor’s parents consider him a troublemaker, so when he learns that they plan to Unwind him, he goes on the run.  He just needs to stay hidden for a few more years.  Along with two other teens, Rita and Lev, he just might have a chance.

Star Divider


“You see, a conflict always begins with an issue – a difference of opinion, an argument. But by the time it turns into a war, the issue doesn’t matter anymore, because now it’s about one thing and one thing only: how much each side hates the other.”

I had heard that teens love Unwind because of the challenging questions it raises about life, death, and the agency of teenagers.  Since I loved Shusterman’s Scythe for its unusual depth, reading Unwind next seemed only natural.  Unfortunately, however, Unwind failed to impress me.  It reads as a pretty standard dystopian novel with unremarkable characters and a faulty premise.

Immersing myself fully in the world of Unwind immediately proved difficult because I could not accept the reasons given for the development of this dystopian world.  Shusterman explains that the Second Civil War was fought between the pro-life and pro-choice forces and ended in a compromise: life is safe except between the ages of 13 and 18, when an individually can legally be Unwound–dismembered for body parts.  Supposedly this satisfies the pro-life forces because unborn babies cannot be aborted and the teen goes on “living” in other ways.  Presumably this satisfies the pro-choice forces because parents can still rid themselves of unwanted children.

This is obviously ridiculous.  Pro-life advocates who want to protect life “from conception until natural death” are not likely to think that killing people for body parts is morally acceptable.  This is too utilitarian and does not respect the individual’s right to life, but assumes that one can kill an individual to benefit a greater number of people.  And this premise seems to overlook the concerns of pro-choice advocates.  Consider that many pro-choice advocates are worried about pregnancy being burdensome, raising children being too expensive or difficult, or children derailing the career or education of a woman.  Obviously, making people raise their children for 13  years does not in any way lower the costs or effects of childcare.

I am not sure if we are supposed to use this seeming disconnect with the pro-life/pro-choice debate as a jumping point for conversation.  Something like having a book group that asks, “Why is abortion okay but not getting rid of your two-year-old if he suddenly becomes burdensome financially or emotionally?”  Or “Would abortion be morally acceptable if we used the body parts to benefit others?”  However, I am not sure how I feel about a novel that seems more effective at generating discussion questions than in telling a convincing story.  If the book had simply started with the premise that we are entering a dystopian world where teenage life is not valued because teenagers annoy their parents and do not seem to benefit society or something, I would have been much more inclined to suspend my disbelief.

The rest of the book is not particularly memorable, but reminds me of any number of dystopian YA novels.  I did not feel particularly attached to or sympathetic with any of the three protagonists.  This made it difficult to care about what happened to them, to feel invested in the romance that developed seemingly out of nowhere, or to want to read the sequel.  There are three more books in the series, but I do not have plans to read them.

3 Stars

9 thoughts on “Unwind by Neal Shusterman

  1. Lisa says:

    I just read Scythe and Thunderhead and have been eager to learn more about this author’s books. I’m glad to have read your review. The premise doesn’t seem to make any sense — why ages 13 – 18? I think I’d have a hard time buying into the story… although I suppose I should try it and see!


    • Krysta says:

      I’d guess it’s ages 13-18 because it’s a YA book so it has to be about teenagers? There’s nothing in the story itself that gives any real reason other than, “Of course pro-life people would be okay with killing teens. It’s just the babies they car about.” Which is obviously ridiculous. But I was rather shocked to see such terrible worldbuilding when the worldbuilding in Scythe and Thunderhead has been pheonomenal.


  2. Sammie says:

    Like you, I loved Scythe and Thunderhead, and have just preemptively decided to love The Toll, okay? It saves time that way.

    I actually just bought the whole Unwind dystology, and I haven’t read them yet, but I can see your problems with it. Sounds not particularly plausible. I’ll go in with lower expectations than the Arc of a Scythe books, but I’ll be interested to read them and see. Great review. 🙂


    • Krysta says:

      I was rather shocked by Unwind because it’s just so…standard. Scythe feels far more original, even if it does follow some YA cliches. And the worldbuilding in Scythe and Thunderhead has been phenomenal, unlike the worldbuilidng in Unwind.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sammie says:

        That’s mostly why I picked up Unwind, because I loved the worldbuilding in the other two so much. Ah well. I’ll lower my expectations a bit, so I’ll either be pleasantly surprised or not disappointed, at least. xD


  3. (Danielle) Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    Hmmmm, I have this here (so I will read it at some point) but am now concerned as this sounds like it will require too much of a suspension of belief on my part? This concept seems very confusing honestly, so I am still kind of interested for the sake of seeing how he has chosen to execute. The book was gifted by a friend after I loved the Arc of Scythe series. I had not actually read the blurb yet! Great review 🙂


  4. Jenna @ Falling Letters says:

    I feel the opposite way – I love the Unwind books and found Scythe to be pretty basic. Granted, I’ve read all of the Unwind books and have had them stewing in my mind for years. I wonder if I would feel different if I had read Scythe first.


  5. DoingDewey says:

    I’ve generally not heard good things about this and it sounds like a book more focused on discussing a particular issue than on being a good book, so I think I’ll probably continue to pass on this one 🙂


    • Krysta says:

      Yeah… I really felt like it was just a launching pad to talk about abortion with teens, which is why I suppose the person who recommended it liked it. She wanted to talk about abortion with her students, not the actual book.


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