Series: Unwind #1
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.
“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.