Tuesday, September 08, 2009

111 (2009 #36). Unwind

by Neal Shusterman

Unwind is dystopian science fiction, about a future world where unwanted teens can be “unwound,” with their body parts salvaged for use by others. This dystopia is the result of a civil war over abortion, with the compromise being that life is sacred until age 13, but then parents (or the state, in the case of orphans) can choose unwinding for their 13- to 17-year-olds, the reasoning being that the teen doesn’t really “die” since nearly 100% of their body parts are being reused. Once a child turns 18, s/he is safe from unwinding. Connor, a troublemaker, Risa, a ward of the state, and Levi, a “tithe” (a child deliberately conceived by the parents to be unwound as part of their religion) are the three runaways trying to escape unwinding in this riveting story.

The novel makes the reader think about issues such as organ harvesting and donation, euthanasia, and abortion. Some of the scenes in the book are thought-provoking. For example, the idea of cellular memory in organ transplants leading to criminal behavior, and the “Storking Initiative,” which requires that an unwanted newborn be raised by whoever finds it on the doorstep, another result of the ban on abortion that also has unintended consequences. An unwinding is described and it’s truly horrific.

I didn’t expect to like this book, as it’s not my typical genre (I read it for an online discussion). It was much better than I thought it would be. It would generate great discussions in a classroom setting; there’s an excellent study guide on the author’s website. In an interview, Shusterman said the idea for the book “gelled when I read an article about transplant technology. One scientist said that he predicted that within our lifetimes, they will be able to use 100% of an organ donor’s body. That got me thinking — if 100% of you is alive, are you alive or not? I thought this book was a great way to ask that question, and through that question, address all these issues of medical and social ethics.” This is another book I'll be purchasing for my university's collection.

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