Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Review: Unwind

Neal Shusterman
2007; Simon & Schuster; 978-1-4169-1204-0 (hardback)

Summary: There was a second Civil War, called the Heartland War. It was fought over the question of abortion. Finally, the only way to bring peace to both sides was to create an agreement that life is sacred, from the moment of conception to the age of thirteen. But from the ages of thirteen to eighteen, parents could choose to retroactively abort their child. Such children are called Unwinds. And three Unwinds--Connor, Risa, and Lev--are on their way to the harvest camp, until there's an accident . . .

Four Things to Know About Unwind

#1: See the danger of becoming a one-issue electorate.

Set approximiately fifty years in our future, Unwind explores an America where the matter of abortion trumped all other issues, to the point that a war started over the different sides. The war was apparently so divisive, so unable to be settled, that only a shocking option could bring them back to peace. The Bill of Life that is created in the aftermath of the war bears more than a passing resemblance to Jonathan Swift's satire A Modest Proposal, which argued that a solution to the Irish potato famine in the 1800s was to eat babies. Unwind has an equally unusual solution, in determining that parents can retroactively abort their children once they are between the ages of thirteen to eighteen. And all this happened because the abortion debate took over all other challenges facing America.

#2: Human nature can/cannot be changed by laws.

As a result of the Bill of Life, there were other changes in society. Instead of abortion, women with unwanted babies could only stork them: leave the baby on a doorstep and get away without being noticed. The family now has to raise the baby; however, if the woman is caught, the baby is still hers. Same-sex marriage is apparently outlawed, although there seems to be some kind of option available (perhaps civil unions?). Furthermore, the terms white and black seem to have been discarded when talking about race; in Unwind, it's sienna and umber. Laws and cultural mores have been changed, attempting to change human nature. Yet human nature doesn't change that much, and laws sometimes have to bend to it.

#3: Is your soul a body part?

Thanks to scientific developments, 99.44% of an Unwind's body can be used--organs, skin, legs, arms, even the brain itself. The Bill of Life argues that because the whole body is used, it's not murder; an Unwind is not dead. Yet this doesn't answer an essential concern for every Unwind facing the proceedure: what happens to the soul? What happens to your essence? As seen in Unwind, nobody knows, but it appears that in some cases, an echo exists--something that infuses your whole body. Thus, when your body gets unwound, there can be unexpected consequences. A supporting character called CyFi receives half a brain from an Unwound, and finds that he has periods where he acts more like the Unwound than himself.

#4: We can only marginalize the faceless.

As a result of the actions of Connor, Risa, and Lev, a face is put on the Unwound. Before, they were never talked about. Kids would vanish from your class or from your neighborhood without comment. After all, teens that were Unwound were the bad kids, the troublemakers, the rebels. Who would worry about them? But once people begin to realize that not all Unwounds are like that--and even if they were, they don't deserve such a fate--change can happen. Like so many marginalized groups, Unwounds can only be on the fringes when no one sees beyond them as a group. Yet that doesn't mean that there's a sudden change; the characters still have to work to undermine the system. But there's hope for them, and for a group like the Unwounds, hope is necessary--and dangerous.

Unwind is an intriguing novel, and fulfills the basic tenant of science fiction: to explore our world through the clash of science vs. ethics. For teens who are looking for harder questions than those posed in Scott Westerfeld's Uglies, recommend this gripping novel.

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