Saturday, October 03, 2009

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Published in 2007. 335 pages.

Unwind is a Children's Literature Association of Utah 2010 Beehive Award Nominee in the Young Adults' Books category. It was also recently challenged (with six other books) in a high school in Kentucky, as reported by author Laurie Halse Anderson. This dichotomy of views made this science-fiction novel the perfect read for me during Banned Books Week!

First sentence: "There are places you can go," Ariana tells him, "and a guy as smart as you has a decent chance of surviving to eighteen."

Last sentence: At last, he allows himself the wonderful luxury of hope.

In my view, the best works of sci-fi provide commentary about our day and our society. Shusterman has written a book that challenges his readers' ideas about life - where it begins, where it ends, and what it means to be alive - and thereby comments primarily about the political debate between "right to life" and "right to choice," but also about organ donation, terrorism, medical advances, race, legalities, family, and doing the right thing.

Here are two favorite passages:

In a perfect world mothers would all want their babies, and strangers would open up their homes to the unloved. In a perfect world everything would be either black or white, right or wrong, and everyone would know the difference. But this isn't a perfect world. The problem is people who think it is. [page 75]

"Please ...," says the boy.
Please what? the teacher thinks. Please break the law? Please put myself and the school at risk? But, no that's not it at all. What he's really saying is: Please be a human being. With a life so full of rules and regiments, it's so easy to forget that's what they are. She knows - she sees - how often compassion takes a back seat to expediency. [page 83]

In March 2008, there was a review of Unwind in The New York Times. I agree with this conclusion:

Ultimately, though, the power of the novel lies in what it doesn’t do: come down explicitly on one side or the other.

That's why the book is so brilliant - and why it will be provoking my thoughts for many days to come!



  1. I originally gave this book 4 stars, but then I couldn't stop thinking about it and how much I liked it. A few months later, I changed my rating to 5 stars!

  2. This was one of the books picked for a book club I'm in, and I never got around to reading it. Now I'm regreting it! Great review. I need to pick this one up.