Monday, October 28, 2013

Unwind, by Neal Shusterman

Have taken some time out from the Book of the New Sun to read Unwind, the first in a series by Neal Shusterman.  This was somewhat "assigned reading"--a group is reading it together--so I went ahead and purchased it, though it is freely available at your local public library.  Very popular, they should have copies.  But since it is "assigned", I have a responsibility to give it more thought than usual in reviewing.

The driver of the book is The Heartland War and its resolution, though only a small amount of backstory is in this volume.  Pro-choice and pro-life factions fought a civil war to an inconclusive end, resulting in a compromise where abortion itself is illegal, but children may be "unwound" anywhere between the ages of 7 and 18.  Unwound meaning dismembered and all parts used in transplants.  Babies may be "storked"--left on someone's doorstep, and if the mother is not caught, it's the storkee's responsibility.  Most questions are plausibly answered--transplantation has been made very easy with neurografting and preservation techniques, and people have convinced themselves that life goes on for the Unwound, just not as singular persons.  We even get solid references to note that this is happening today in China.  Some setup questions remain, for instance:
  1. There must be a LOT of babies.  Normally it is not difficult to find a family to take a healthy newborn, they are in demand.  Ending abortion would increase the birth rate, but by that much?  Possibly birth control is illegal as well?  This is not mentioned.
  2. What is the geography of the country after the Heartland War?  Did all the states stay in the union?  Maybe not important.
The book asks the question of what a society would be like that would condone such a practice, and answers it conclusively--heinously immoral.  There's not a lot of depth to the moral discussion.  Heroes (the kids resisting Unwinding, with a few allies) are disgusted by the practice, and villains (parents--politicians are mentioned but are very much in the background) condone and take advantage of it.  Yes, this is a YA novel, but Shusterman could have tried for more ambiguity.  For instance, it should be fairly easy in the near future to identify psychopaths genetically.  Wouldn't it be nice to have "unwound" serial killers before they find victims?  But no, most everyone being unwound is either a nice kid or possibly salvageable. 

The characters in the book discuss whether or not it is really true that Unwinds retain some sort of distributed consciousness or identity.  Some say yes, some say no.  In real life?  No, a transplanted heart does not ache for its old lover.  But in Unwind, through either magical realism or willful ignorance, it is presumed to be true.  Arms "remember" how to shuffle cards one-handed.  Etc.  So the basic delusion this society has adopted is--substantially correct.  Hm.  Where does this go?  There are more books in the series, so possibly the question is taken up, but I am not sure I'll read them.  I give it 3 stars, but only just.  It could have been more, and kept its YA roots.

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