“Unwind” by Neal Shusterman – Page turning plot, strong characters, fresh ideas

I almost gave up on “Unwind” when I heard the opening paragraphs. I’m very glad I didn’t, I would have missed an excellent book.

I was put off by the context-setting prologue, which explains that Unwinding was a compromise reached to end the Heartlands civil war between pro-life and pro-choice forces. Having fought each other to a stand-still, both sides agreed to protect the rights of unborn children but to allow them to be “unwound” between their thirteenth and eighteenth birthday if they proved to be a burden to their parents. Unwinding distributes the living parts of the child so that can be used as replacements parts by adults. Unwinding is seen as entering an altered state of living rather than being killed.

I found this idea so unlikely and so repugnant that I almost skipped the book.

But within a chapter or two Neal Shusterman had turned this abstract idea into a horrifyingly plausible reality by getting me involved in the lives of three young people, who, for different reasons, have been marked as Unwinds but who refuse to accept their fate.

In some ways, “Unwind” reminded me of “The Handmaid’s Tale”, another grim exploration of a dystopian future. Both books remind us of how we can be persuaded to accept things that are fundamentally evil when they are sincerely presented by the powerful as for the greater good and when they only impact those for whom we have little sympathy.

But Schusterman’s book, while not side-stepping the issues, is more action oriented than “The Handmaid’s Tale”. It has a plot that twists and turns and surprises and kept me wanting to know what would happen next. It is also kept fresh because each chapter is told from the point of view of one of the characters, typically one of the three Unwinds that we are first introduced to, although one of the most affecting chapters is told from the point of view of a secondary character and describes in detail what happens when a person is unwound.

Luke Daniels does a wonderful job in narrating this book. He is skilled with dialogue and accents and delivers prose at the right pace and with all the stresses where you would expect them to be. This makes the book easy to listen to and to think about.

“Unwind” made me think, kept me interested and occasionally moved me to tears. I recommend it to anyone looking for science fiction with bite.

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