Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

"The Process by which a child is both terminater and yet kept alive is called 'unwinding'. Unwinding is now a common, and accepted, practice in society.

In a society where unwanted teens are salvaged for their body parts, three runaways fight the system that would unwind them. Brought together by chance, and kept together by desperation, these unlikely companions make a harrowing cross-country journey, knowing their lives hang in the balance. If they can survive until their eighteenth birthday, they can't be harmed - but when every piece of them, from their hands to their hearts, is wanted by a world gone mad, eighteen seems far, far away."

Conner is 16 and constantly getting in to trouble. He finds it really hard to rein in his temper and it makes for a lot of fights. His parents have had enough. He just discovered the Unwind papers they signed. The day before they and his younger brother go on vacation, Conner will be unwound. To avoid it, he's going to run.

Risa is 15, a ward of the State she's grown up in a group home knowing that she has to be the very best or she risks being unwound. Now she's being told she's not quite good enough and because there is a space shortage, she's being unwound. Terrified, Risa doesn't think there is a way she can possibly escape.

Lev is 13 and a tithe. He's been raised his whole life to be unwound and he's actually looking forward to it. He believes he's doing God's will. He doesn't want to escape it, he wants it to happen and the sooner the better.

Conner runs but the juvy cops follow. He attempts to lose them crossing a busy freeway. The Bus carrying Risa and other Unwinds swerves and crashes, as does the car carrying Lev. Risa runs for the surrounding forest, and for some reason Conner decides to take Lev as a hostage. Conner and Risa team up, keeping Lev with them, determined to stay gone until they turn 18 and become free again. But surviving in a world where everyone is watching is easier said than done.

I was lent this by a good friend after she and another told me I had to read it because it was amazing. I can't argue that this book is very well done. It's dark, twisted and the politics that led to Unwinding are all too easy to imagine. It moves at a good pace, building tension throughout the book, taking several twists along the way I didn't see coming. It's written in third person, switching between Conner, Risa and Lev's POV's with the occasional small part from various other characters. The way it's told adds to the unsure atmosphere, no one able to trust anyone else and showing what is really going on for each individual. It means there are times when you can see that wrong assumptions have been made and they're going to cost that person, but again, it just adds to the tension and builds it all up further.

I really, really liked all three main characters. It was easy to feel for them and their different situations. They all change and grow a lot through the book, facing so many huge obstacles and they learn a lot about themselves. The anger, frustration and betrayal the Unwinds feel comes through loud and clear and it's hard not to get worked up by that as well. They're in a world where trust is in dire supply, but they can't survive on their own.

So why, when the book was really hard to put down, I loved the characters, its well written and full of surprises, why didn't I love it? Very simple actually, it creeped me out too much. I'm not easy to creep out, I can handle blood and gore and intense situations in graphic detail fine. But just occasionally there is a book where the detail is just right between gore and the psychological aspect that it completely gets to me. That was the case here. The majority of the book was fine, dark, twisted and full of anger, but fine. There are just a couple things towards the end of the book which crossed that line for me and left too deep an impression.

I can't love the book for those moments because they creeped me out too badly. But, they don't actually manage to take away from the book (which probably makes no sense, bare with me). This book has some dark themes, 'aborting' teens instead of unborn babies, tithing humans, 'storking' (by which mothers with babies they don't want can leave them on anothers' doorstep and they have to take that child wanted or not, so long as they don't get seen doing so). It pulls no punches and explores these themes pretty deeply. It wouldn't have the same impact if those bits that creeped me out enough to take away some enjoyment weren't there.

Overall, it really is a great read and one that well and truly got under my skin, but I can't say I loved it. It's not that kind of book for me. I would recommend it, with warning that it's not for the faint hearted. On a 'technical' level this book is probably near perfect, but I'm not rating it as such so it does lose a few marks with me. Still a great book, if you like the twisted nature. 7/10

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