Monday, February 3, 2020

Unwind Series

Unwind, Neal Shusterman

We have appreciated Neal Shusterman’s writing before with Scythe, Thunderhead and Dry.

Having discovered just how well Shusterman can see the ways that humanity could behave under certain circumstances, I turned with some trepidation to his Unwind series, knowing it would be challenging reading. It certainly doesn’t disappoint, and kept me absolutely captivated.

It is years since the Unwind accord, an agreement that was reached after the Heartland Wars, fought between ProChoice and ProLife sides of the US. In order to keep both sides happy, all pregnancies and babies must be brought to full term and no terminations may occur. But between ages 13-18 teens can be retroactively terminated and unwound, with all body parts used in organ donation and medical restoration. Many people now have replacement parts from unwinds, supporting a massive healthcare and cosmetic industry.

Connor at age 16 discovers he is to be unwound, by order of his parents, so not surprisingly he runs away to avoid it. Rosa is a ward of the state, but not having achieved excellence in music, it’s a pragmatic financial decision for the state to slate her for unwinding. Lev, however, is a 'true tithe'. the tenth child of a devoted family, born to be given as an unwind and has spent his whole life knowing he had a such a purpose. All three lives intersect in the opening chapters.

Of course, with terminations no longer allowed, many babies are now born, but not all are wanted. This led to the Storking initiative, where any unwanted child could be left on any doorstep, and whoever found them was obligated to raise them. There is a very committed Juvenile Authority policing arm, as not surprisingly a lot of kids slated for unwinding need to be brought forcibly under control to make it happen. The facilities where unwinding occurs are called Harvest Camps, and when we get to an account of the medical process itself, it is truly chilling. However, there are some glimmers of hope when it’s revealed that there is an underground network taking kids to a form of safety in an aeroplane graveyard.

Later, Lev meets up with Cy, who having had 1/8th of his brain replaced, shows occasional tendencies to steal and behave differently, which is attributed to the kid whose brain he has received.

It’s worth reading the novella UnStrung at this point to fill in some of Lev’s timeline.

The second major novel, UnWholly contains the same characters as Unwind and continues their story, adding two more main characters. Starkey is a storked kid given for unwinding by his adoptive parents, because he has become a rebellious youth. Finding his way to the airplane yard, he sees opportunity for leadership and looks to challenge the status quo. Miracolina is another tithe and completely convinced of her own importance and holiness.

The next two books (UnSouled and UnDivided) continues the storylines as they get more complex and darker. Thankfully by the end, some light has begun to shine and you finish the series with much more hope.

There is also a collection of novellas all connected to the Unwind world, called UnBound. Most will only make sense after you have finished all the major books, and add extra information.

Shusterman has a way of seeing the key issues in what are creatively complex situations. He can identify current processes, policies or ideas in society (A, B or C), and take them where they could logically, but disturbingly go, all the way down the line to X, Y & Z.

As with his other books, there is almost no romantic element, or at least nothing descriptive. There is no swearing at all that I can recall, proving yet again that authors who chose to use extensive swearing really just show their lack of vocabulary and creativity. No swearing is needed here to convey the horror of what people can do to each other. Obviously there is a lot of violence, evil deeds, awful people and disturbing medical descriptions. Highly recommended for mid-older teens and adults.

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