I really had to think about this one. A lot.
And then somewhere in the midst of all that thinking I read six or seven or maybe twelve other books and then my poor sad little laptop threatened to give up the ghost and I had to send her to the mac hospital and then I got sucked into the vortex of my TBR list (which OMG why why WHY!!!?? does it not even look like I made a DENT in that thing!) while she was gone and basically sucked at blogging… so yeah…thinking.
But we’re back now and I’m committed to putting my best foot forward here. I’ve even made a pact with a bloggy buddy, (check out her Unwind review here.) so that I don’t fall off the wagon again!
Ok so first let me just say WOW.Wow. wow. wow. wowowwow. wow. wow. woW. WOW. (How did you like that texty Wow art btw?? pretty creative huh? I came up with that allllllll on my own. This is when I start to think I should maybe go outside on long weekends.)
So next I gotta go with Ugh! Oh! Ehghghghghghgghhh… Squuuuuuuuuuirmmm. Because that was what this book did to me. It was so very, very disturbing. It might be one of the most disturbing books I have ever read which considering how much I adore Dean Koontz, Stephen King & Hannibal (Which is a show but it’s a really freaking disturbing one) is saying a lot.
I know plenty of people who are pretty much over the dystopian genre at this point, and while it’s true the market is somewhat super-saturated I personally am still engaged. When you wake up every morning to some new unspeakable tragedy it’s nearly impossible not to wonder what the hell is wrong with us (age old question right?). For me dystopia is a way of exploring our failures and asking “What if?”
And let me tell you…this particular “What if” was a doozy.
Unwind is based on the horrifying concept that at some point in the not particularly distant future the political war on abortion will become a literal war and the “solution” will be to make abortion illegal opting instead to have unwanted children unwound… Which is a rather gentle way of saying harvesting them for tissue & organs.
So now you’re all like Whhhaaaaaattt?? What’s the difference between terminating the life of an unwanted baby and having that child unwound?
Well…In the world of the book the powers that be have decreed that abortion is tantamount to murder and thus immoral. However, medical science has reached the point where all human tissue, every last bit, is able to be harvested from a donor and repurposed. Thus, the argument is made that since the tissue never dies neither does the person, life does not end and so it cannot be considered murder. Therefore rather than abort a baby and never give it life a parent can have an unwanted child unwound after the age of thirteen.
Ok… so. This one’s tough yeah? Because of course abortion is an hot button (like molten lava) issue and even to blog about this book in depth requires a certain amount of sensitivity. I for one don’t think topics like this are ever black and white the way political talking heads would like us to believe. Most of us don’t right? A woman having the “right to choose” does not mean it’s a choice every woman would make, no matter the circumstances… Or that it would ever be an easy choice. There are so many factors to consider many of them philosophically mind bending. The crux of the debate internal and external often boils down to What is life? When does it begin and at what point does it end? Now the scientist in me could spit out the biological description (not definition because the truth is we don’t have one) of life.
But we all know that what we’re really asking and what lies at the center of all these debates and a book like Unwind is; What is the soul, the conscious, the thing that defines us as human.. (Not that there isn’t room for discussion about whether or not a Soul is synonymous with humanity but I’ll save that for another book… maybe Enders Game or These Broken Stars). And that my friends is what made this book so fascinating and damn uncomfortable. At one point we see through the eyes of a character who is being unwound and my heart was literally racing as I read… it was just…unimaginable. Guys, if you can stomach this truly difficult concept and dive into this book, you should. At the very least Unwind is a truly unique and utterly thought provoking concept.
Fortunately the horror of the story is both softened and made more poignant by Connor, Lev and Risa three unwinds who have gone AWOL (not all by choice) and are running for their lives. The beauty of these kids is that they are kids and while their tale of adventure and redemption is catalyzed by just about the most insane set of circumstances ever conceived, their all too typical adolescent struggles provide that touch innocence this book so desperately needs.
Connor, I must admit, had the story that truly broke my heart. (Although I feel terrible saying that because ALL of the stories, even the kinda evil kid’s left me emotionally ravaged) But the truth is I related the most to Connor.. I don’t know about you but when I was a kid I was T.R.O.U.B.L.E capitol T and all that jazz. Really, I was quite the challenge (For serious y’a’ll my parents had a book called “Dealing with your Difficult Child”). And that’s who Connor was. He was difficult. But unlike me he didn’t have parents who saw that our greatest gifts and our greatest faults are often one and the same. Rather, he had shithead parents who decided that it would be better for everyone to have him unwound. And that was what killed me about Connor’s story this idea that parents who may have at one time loved him just… gave up… thought he could be put to better use in bits than as “Connor”…Gah!! Which is too bad because Connor was pretty awesome. Indeed he was hot tempered and stubborn as hell but he had that heart of gold that made him impossible not to love. Even when he was doing stupid things and making terrible decisions… he was a good guy and a worthy “hero”.
Risa on the other hand was an example of a perfectly lovely child (and a smart, tough caring and all-round great character) who simply had the misfortune of being a ward of the state. See in the world of the book abortion is illegal but a practice called “Storking” (Which is exactly what it sounds like ie: leaving an unwanted baby on a doorstep) is perfectly acceptable. The unsuspecting families who get “storked”can choose to keep the baby or they can turn the child into a state home. Which is where we find Risa, an unwanted teenager who’s only hope at remaining whole is to be the BEST at something…anything… Well it turns out Rise is a freaking amazing piano player but she’s not the best and so it’s decided that rathar than continue to feed and clothe her, those lovely piano playing hands deserve a chance to live a better life on someone elses body…
And then there’s Lev…. Lev was a supreamly uncomfortable character but he also underwent the greatest transformation (and y’all KNOW I love character development). So Lev it turns out is a “Tithe.” (The 10% that super religious families gift to god which is usually money but in this case was a child). Tithes in this world are unique in that they have always known that they would be unwound and unlike the children who are deemed “not good enough” or “troubled” they are not ashamed of their fates… Lev in fact is horrified to find himself “rescued” and on the run. In the first half of the book he is fighting madly to make his way back to “Happy Jack Camp”and fulfill his destiny. However… the longer Lev is on his own and the more he experiences the more he questions his role in the world and the value of life (his and those of all the unwinds). Lev goes on a journey separate from Connor and Risa that shapes him and leads him to make decisions that ultimately play a role in the fate of all the characters.
So, while Unwind is an incredibly exciting and gloriously thought provoking read if I had one complaint I’d say that amidst the action, adventure and philosophy there was a decisive lack of in depth character development. Connor and Risa, were worthy heroes sure, they fought for each other and the lives of those around them and when push came to shove they tried to do the right thing. But somewhere amidst all the dramatics of running for your life and maybe changing the world along the way something about them felt a little flat (and not just because their love story was underdeveloped). And while Lev seemed to have a little more substance I wanted more from him, from all of them. Interestingly enough some of the side characters like CyFi (a kid who lives with a portion of an unwind’s brain and subsequently his personality) and the Admiral (one of the few adults in this book who’s motivations are a source of tension) seem to have more fully developed personalities.
That being said though, this book haunted me… its’s still haunting me. Sometimes when I get into a reading frenzy and devour one book right after another I have a hard time pulling apart some of the plot points and characters in my brain later. (that might be why I have a tendency to re read so regularly) Not this book.. this one stands alone in my mind and I’ve caught myself thinking about it over and over again in the weeks since I finished.
I may not have loved all the feelings I had while reading Unwind; anger, terror, disgust, sadness and just enough joy to make it all worthwhile but I truly, truly appreciated that it made me feel them. Like so many of us I read to escape from the world.. but I also read to examine it. I want the books I read to be a classroom that functions to teach me about life and challenges me to ask the tough questions that may never have satisfying resolutions.
The news these days is full…full of darkness and what a book like Unwind reminds us is that there is never a “simple” answer. No one crusade will save us. Sometimes the best we can do is simply to keep asking questions.
So tell me what you think? Do you still read dystopia (or have you jumped off that bandwagon?) if so why??