Updated: Sep 30, 2022
Are you an organ donor?
What if your organs were harvested while you were still alive?
When I was younger, I had an intense fear of that, to the point where I refused to be an organ donor. Once I turned 18 or 19, I got over it. The DMV lady told me it wouldn't happen, but I'm not sure why I found her answer comforting. It's not like she really knows what goes down in the hospital.
About Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Live organ donation is the basic premise of this young adult dystopian series. The four books—Unwind, Unwholly, Unsouled, and Undivided—cover some heavy topics like abortion, pro-choice, religion, and negative media portrayals of teens in an accessible and safe way that even younger teens can enjoy.
Unwind follows three main characters: Connor, Risa, and Lev. For reasons unique to each of them, these three teens are scheduled to be unwound in a medical procedure that allows for the retroactive abortion of misbehaved teenagers. After unwinding, their organs would be given to those who needed them most.
Of course, most teenagers want to keep their organs. I don't blame them, really.
So Connor and Risa naturally try to escape their fate and drag poor little Lev along with them in a heroic teenage uprising. Overall, a fascinating if not morbid plot for a high-concept YA dystopian series.
The story is narrated in third-person and mostly centers on Connor, Risa, or Lev, but some chapters bounce to other narrators as well. It sounds like it would be confusing, but Shusterman does a great job in making the various narrators feel like a coherent whole. I'd say the tone for this story is dark, angry, and humorous. Does that sound like a weird combo? It is, but somehow it's enjoyable.
Tropes: slow-burn romance, dystopian, found family, evil government, morally grey
The Worst Parts of Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Let's start with the bad and work our way up.
I found the pace of Unwind slow and lagging in places. If you're not a dedicated reader, it might take you a few tries to get through this book. (Spoiler: it's worth finishing.)
Additionally, two of the three main characters, Connor and Risa, are predictable and a little flat. Connor is a miscreant with anger issues; Risa is perfect and never does anything bad, but she's an orphan and no one loves her. Tragic.
The Best Parts of Unwind by Neal Shusterman
The plot is great, along with the tone, writing style, and humor. I love the way Unwind tackles huge, divisive moral dilemmas from all angles—it's very thought-provoking.
But the best part of the story is a boy named Lev Calder. For every boring, predictable moment we see between Connor and Risa, we get at least three fantastic, innovative, and hilarious moments from Lev. Lev is a "tithe", which means that he's destined to be unwound as a religious sacrifice. He gets incredibly upset when Connor "rescues" him from being unwound. That's fair, since Connor only rescued Lev to use the kid as a human shield. But watching Lev's psychology shift from a willing martyr to a self-respecting logical thinker is astounding.
Lev is the entire reason to read this series. He's worth every minute.
Content Warnings and Age Rating for Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Younger kids might find the unwinding scenes and overall premise scary, and the mature themes might be lost on them. However, the language is very mild, and there's no gore or sex. I'd recommend the Unwind series for kids 11 and up.
Who Should Read Unwind by Neal Shusterman?
If you're older than 11, love young adult dystopian novels and enjoy complex moral dilemmas, then I highly encourage you to read this series. I give it four stars!
P.S. If I just described you, I bet you'd love my books, too. Check them out below!
This article was written by Nicole Adrianne.
Nicole Adrianne is an autistic author living in Stockholm, Sweden. She writes lush, compelling, and clean YA dystopian fiction. Check out more of her work by clicking any of the book covers below.