I think I have made it pretty clear that I enjoy reading a good dystopia novel, so when I read Reader Rabbit’s review of Unwind, I got very excited. It is similar in theme to one of my all time favorite books - Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go - though the characters in Unwind refuse to simply accept their fate.
For different reasons, Connor, Risa, and Lev are all set to be “unwound” – meaning their organs will be harvested and passed on, allowing them to continue to “live” in a “divided state” and contribute something more valuable to society than they ever would be able to in their "undivided state". The idea of unwinding is something that grew out of the Heartland War – brutally fought between Pro-lifers and Pro-choicers (it seems then that it only exists in the US, though its geographical extension is not explicitly addressed). The two sides compromise in The Bill of Life which declares that a person’s life cannot be legally terminated from conception to age thirteen. If you don’t prove your worth by age 13 (or if you mess up before you hit 18), your parent or guardian can sign an unwind order.
Conner’s parents want him unwound because he’s a troublemaking teen with a temper – the type that might get sent to military camp in our society and come out of it a respected leader.
Risa is an orphan living in a state home, and though she’s a gifted pianist, she becomes the victim of a tight budget and a system all too eager to capitalize on organ donation.
Lev is a tithe, the 10th child of a religious family, and he’s been raised knowing he’s been singled out for the honor of “serving God”.
When the three collide, they set off on an adventure that takes them to a neighborhood where a baby has just been “storked” (unfit mothers denied abortions now just dump their unwanted babies on strangers’ doorsteps), through an “underground railroad” made up of Bill of Life dissenters, to the “Graveyard” (a place run by an enigmatic former general for unwinds to lay low until their 18th birthday rolls around) and ultimately to a “harvest camp”.
This is a novel where the frenetic pace only lets up long enough to offer up a thought provoking tidbit. I liked how well-rounded the characters were – there were no stock villains (except perhaps for the juvey cops – though you could argue they just had a job to do) – and even “bad” characters like the volatile and power-hungry fellow Unwind Roland, are painted with some sympathetic shades. “Good” characters do “bad” things. No one gets off lightly.
Often shocking and for the most part compelling, this one will keep you guessing and get you thinking.