Thursday, April 30, 2015

Neal Shusterman's Unwind Dystology

I wrote about the first book in the Unwind Dystology, Unwind, nearly three years ago. 

The Unwind Dystology consists of four books and one short story.

1.  Unwind, 2007
2.  UnWholly, 2012
3.  UnSouled, 2013
4.  UnDivided, 2014

UnStrung is a short story published in 2012.  It is meant to be read between volumes 1 and 2.  UnStrung contains events that are important to understanding parts of the later books.  Novellas typically can be skipped and are not necessary to understanding the main books in a series, but UnStrung is very important to this series.

Like with most dystopian series, I cannot give much information beyond what happens in the first book.  Most additional information would spoil too much.

The Unwind Dystology is set in the future United States.  Abortion has been declared illegal, and in exchange, parents can have their children unwound between the ages of 13 and 17.  The teenagers who are unwound are no longer wanted by their parents.  Many parents sign away teenagers that get into trouble or don't make good enough of grades.

Teenagers who are unwound basically become unwilling organ donors.  Their bodies are separated, and 100% of their parts are given to others.  People believe that being unwound does not kill the person, that the person will live on in a divided state.

Some families choose to tithe their children.  Children who are tithes know from birth that they will be unwound at the age of 13.  Tithes and their families see this as a deeply religious experience and are content knowing that the unwound teenager will help others live a better life.

Cults form around the recipients of certain unwound teenagers.  For instance, all of the people who received unwound parts from a boy named Tyler create a cult and live together.  They believe that Tyler is with them in spirit.

This is all very twisted, but it gets worse.  Proactive Citizenry has created a young man, Cam, who was created from 100 unwinds.  Cam has the flesh of all races, stitched together across his body.  His hair is a rainbow of colors and textures, also representing all races.  Many people are disgusted by Cam's existence.  Cam is depicted on the cover of the second book, UnWholly.

Some unwinds go AWOL before they are unwound.  Some of them are the protagonists, Conner, Lev, and Risa.  They fight to stay alive as they search for a way to convince society that unwinding is wrong.

These books are dystopian horror novels.  They are darkly disturbing.  They also get the reader to think.  In fact, these books are so deeply thought-provoking, they may very well be considered great literature years from now.  As we know, great literature is often controversial, and these books are no less than that. 

Shusterman has interspersed real articles from the internet through his books.  The reader gets to read about events that have actually happened that could be precursors to the events of these books. 

These books aren't for everyone.  Some readers may find the content to be too disturbing.  Furthermore, people who are strong pro-life or strong pro-choice likely will not be able to enjoy these books.  The author purposefully uses verbiage from both sides of the issue, and language from both sides is used to support both sides of the unwind issue.  It's quite clever.

I found the first book to be quite unsettling, but at the same time, I found the story to be intensely compelling.  I wanted to see what would happen to the protagonists, despite my horror about the premise.  As I continued reading the books, I became somewhat desensitized and accepted the bizarre premise of this dystopian universe.

If you like young adult dystopian fiction, consider giving these books a try.  Unlike some other authors, Shusterman ends this series strongly.  The last book, UnDivided, may in fact be the best book.  I have read a number of dystopian series, and the authors tend to get lazy towards the end or can't figure out how to end their series, resulting in abysmal final books.  Shusterman knows how to do it right.

The message in these books is powerful.  I couldn't stop thinking about the books after I finished the last one.  The story is haunting and stays with the reader long after the last page is turned.

1 comment:

Thomas Outman said...

I LOVED this series. As an educator, I often get frustrated with kids "throwing their lives away." I also can totally see the hype of the donor networks in the story (I liked all the "real" news articles that went along with the story). But, just like u, the story horrified me, too because someone else decides who to unwind and who is worthy to go on. I'm certain I would have been unwound as a teenager because I "wasted" all my time reading Nancy Drew books. = )