By Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster, 2009
Unwind is a young adult dystopian science fiction novel with strong social/philosophical overtones. Due to the subject matter and the ages of the characters, it is probably best suited for ages 13-17.
The second American civil war was fought over family values. The biggest issue was abortion, and finally, to stop the killing and destruction, the sides agreed to a ridiculous compromise: abortion would be illegal from the moment of conception on... but at the age of 13, and on until the age of 18, parents could choose to have their kids 'retroactively aborted'. If a child's parents decided that they weren't up to snuff they could be unwound, and every part of their bodies, including their brain matter, would be reused in medical transplants. So that was okay then.
The story follows three thirteen year olds who are sent to be unwound: Conner, who is a troublemaker that his parent's can't handle; Risa, who is a ward of the state that didn't quite meet their standards of talent and productivity; and Levi, who is a tithe, a tenth child, raised to give his body to unwinding to honor the Lord. Connor escapes the Juvie police and unwittingly takes Levi as a hostage and Rise as an accomplice.
The rest of the story follows them as they avoid the police -- first on their own, then with the aid of an underground railroad of supporters, and then to a mysterious camp full of hundreds of escaped unwindees. Along the way there is a lot of speculation on souls, personal identity, and religious identity.
There are two major problems with this novel. The first is the basic premise that unwinding ever made political or ethical sense to anyone, anywhere. This is never really explained in a way that begins to make it make sense, probably for the good reason that it doesn't. This is not entirely uncommon in SF, and hasn't seemed to hurt certain other popular series. The second is that the entire novel is being written in the present tense, which is wack.
But aside from that, it's pretty good. The story is exciting and fast-paced, with a wide cast of characters. There are new and interesting social and science fiction aspects thrown in periodically to keep it from getting too mundane, although some of them are just as crazy as the original 'unwinding' premise. And the characters are fairly well developed, considering that this is basically a SF thriller for teens. While the themes of souls and personal identity are a bit iffy, Shusterman manages not to come off as too preachy, too conservative, or too liberal, and doesn't force any conclusions on the reader, although there is clearly strong evidence within the story that some sort of science-fictiony versions of souls exist, and behave in odd ways.
The second Unwind novel is UnWholly, but there is a volume 1.5, UnStrung, available as an eBook. It is only 60 pages long, and covers some of Levi's adventures that were skipped over in the first book. The third book is UnSouled, followed by Undivided.
Accelerated Reader level 5.0.