Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Being a runaway is hard enough as it is – leaving behind friends, family, and the life you’ve always known just to get away. Survival is always a concern, and it gets even trickier as a runaway in Unwind. In Neal Shusterman’s dystopian young-adult novel, they’re not just after you. They’re after your body parts.

In the future, in order to satisfy both sides of the pro-choice and pro-life war, the American Government has approved the Bill of Life.  The Bill of Life states that parents may choose to retroactively abort a pregnancy when their child is between the ages of 13 and 18.  In doing so, the child is technically kept alive by the dismemberment and “recycled,” with 100% of the child’s body material getting repurposed. The child’s life is never taken, just...“redistributed.” This process is known as “unwinding,” and the unfortunate children and teens fated for this are known as “Unwinds.”

Our three main characters are all on the run for different reasons. Connor is a troubled boy whose parents decided to unwind him after multiple fights in school. Risa is a ward of the state who feels she was never really given a chance to shine. And Lev is along for the ride with Connor and Risa after being kidnapped on his way to his own tithing – he is his family’s religious contribution to the unwinding system.

So many other things have changed in this futuristic world because of unwinding – there is no more need for life threatening surgeries. Is there a problem with your heart? That’s okay, we have a whole stock pile of young, healthy hearts from unwinds. Another strange but legal practice is termed “storking.” Anyone with a baby can leave their baby on the doorstep of a house, ring the doorbell, and leave that child for the family inside the home.  That family is now legally obligated to take care of the child. 

All things considered, I recommend you take a step back and allow yourself to consider the possibilities of this future before diving in to the book. The premise is very interesting, although if you are like me, you may have trouble believing that something like this would ever be allowed to happen. I struggled with my own suspension of disbelief because I couldn’t grasp many of the technicalities. How can these unwound kids still be considered “alive?” Can you really use 100% of a person’s body parts? (That in itself is just disturbing.) 

The most memorable part of this book is a step-by-step account of an unwinding in a crisp white surgery room. I was actually disturbed by the slow and detailed description of a teenage boy who is literally being taken apart. It was this scene that made me consider the cost and impact of such a drastic measure of something like the Bill of Life, and hope that we never allow something like this to happen in real life.

About the Author

Megan Garrett

Megan Garrett is the librarian at the Sugar Creek Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. She also writes book reviews for the Independence Examiner newspaper.