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Neal Shusterman's harrowing new novel, UNWIND, is set in the years following the Second Civil War in the United States, also known as the "Heartland War." Shusterman imagines a world in which today's debates over abortion ultimately lead to armed conflict, in which pro-choice and pro-life armies clash.

Just like today's wars of words over the abortion issue, however, there can be no clear winners or losers in such a conflict. Instead, at the close of the war, the two sides come to a compromise that fails to adequately address the situation. As a result of the agreement, abortion is outlawed, and there is a place for every baby, wanted or not --- either at one of the State Homes or on the doorstep of other families, who are legally obligated to take care of each of these "storked" babies.

That is, until they are 13. At this point, any children who are unwanted can be, effectively, retroactively aborted. They're not exactly killed. Instead, their body parts live on, thanks to recent medical advances that enable every single body part --- from hair to feet to internal organs --- to be donated to others who need (or at least can afford) them. From the age of 13 until 18, millions of kids are at risk of undergoing this procedure, of becoming "unwound."

No one knows the dread of this situation or the contradictions inherent in the new social order better than the three teens at the heart of Shusterman's thought-provoking novel. There's Connor, a troublemaker whose parents find it easier to sign an unwind order than to deal with his disruptive tendencies. There's Risa, a ward of the state whose excellent piano playing abilities are not quite enough to save her from unwinding in the face of budget cutbacks. And there's Lev, whose parents are unwinding their tenth child as part of the church's mandate to tithe, or to give one-tenth of their earnings back to the community.

Even Lev, who might agree with unwinding on a philosophical level, finds it hard to accept the reality of being unwound. And when he, Connor and Risa learn the stories of countless others who face the same terrifying outcome, the three teens become desperate enough to seek any alternative to what appears a certain, horrifying fate.

Shusterman's extrapolation of current political tensions into a horrific dystopian vision results in a riveting portrayal of a future that could, however terrifying, still seem a real possibility. His comprehensive examination of a world in which a single moral issue results in countless questionable moral actions gains a human face in the person of these three young people, whose compelling personal stories will draw readers in. In fact, this human dimension is one of the reasons UNWIND is simultaneously enthralling and repelling, as harrowing descriptions of capture and unwinding procedures result in a narrative that will engage readers with every fiber of their bodies --- shocking their hearts and emotions even as it engages their minds.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on November 6, 2007

by Neal Shusterman

  • Publication Date: November 6, 2007
  • Genres: Science Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 1416912045
  • ISBN-13: 9781416912040