Monthly Archives: April 2012

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

“One thing you learn when you’ve lived as long as I have —

people aren’t all good, and people aren’t all bad.

We move in and out of darkness and light all of our lives.

Right now, I’m pleased to be in the light”

Unwind has one of the most upsetting premises of any book that I have recently read: post birth abortions called unwinding. That’s not to say that kids fighting to the death, the government secretly poisoning its citizens, or surgically removing humans’ ability to love is not scary, it’s more that I have heard about this idea in our current society.  It’s easier to accomplish.

In this world created by Neil Shushterman, if a parents or guardians decides that they no longer want to care for their child before the child turns eighteen, they can have him/her unwound. The child’s body is taken apart and used as donor parts for people who need organs, limbs, anything. The families are told that the child doesn’t really die because he lives on as part of all the people he has helped live. Abortion as we know it is not allowed; however, the parent may choose to unwind the child between thirteen and eighteen.

“…a parent may choose to retroactively ‘abort’ a child…on the condition that the child’s life doesn’t ‘technically’ end. The process by which a child is both terminated and yet kept alive is called ‘unwinding.'”

The book follows three major characters. Connor is a sixteen year old rebellious child, always causing trouble.  He just discovered his parents are having him unwound, then taking his younger on a trip to the Bahamas the next day. So he decides to run away.  If he can make it to his eighteenth birthday, he is considered safe. Risa is an orphan, a ward of the state. She has spent her time focused on becoming a concert pianist, but she’s not the best. Because prebirth abortions are no longer permitted, there are many unwanted children being born and the orphanages are busy. Risa is told that she doesn’t have anything worthwhile to contribute to society and will just be a burden on the state. She too, is going to be unwound.

Lastly we have Lev. While he is also scheduled to be unwound, his story is very different. He comes from a very religious family who follows the tradition of tithing, giving back ten percent of everything you have to God. Since Lev is the tenth child, it was determined from the time his mother was pregnant that he would be unwound. He is treated very well and even thrown a lavish party to celebrate his upcoming tithing. These children are treated like saints.  On his way to his unwinding, he crosses paths with the runaways Risa and Connor, who “rescue” him from his family.  Now the three of them are AWOL.  They meet other kids who are also AWOL and people who are willing to help them.

Shusterman does a great job alternating the third person limited point of view between Connor, Risa, and Lev mostly, but every once in awhile choosing to show the perspective of minor characters.  Shusterman’s prose is not flowery; it is straight forward and poignant.  It is beautiful in its brusqueness.   He shows the anger and fear of his characters in a way that sticks with you and makes your heart ache for them, even months after you are finished reading the book.

There are a few scenes that are extremely powerful.  In one chapter, Shusterman gives the reader an unwinding through the eyes of the kid being unwound.  The child is kept alive the entire time knowing what is coming next.  It was very difficult to read emotionally.  More than once I wanted to skip to the end of it, but it’s so powerful I couldn’t put it down.  This scene gives this character such depth.  And I think that’s Shusterman’s gift in this book, his characterization.   His characters are complicated people with many layers.  The pain these kids feel is so realistic it resonates deep within the reader.  And like the quote I began with says, they are not entirely good, but they are not entirely bad either.

This book is about many things, one being love.  These kids are scared, angry, and sad because their parents gave up on them and sent them away to be taken apart.  The people who are supposed to love and protect them are the ones sending them to their deaths.  The unwinding process is so cold and clinical.  Now, as well as trying to survive, they are trying to find someone who loves them.  They are looking for acceptance and for another human to think of them as worthy of life.  This book is also about making hard decisions and living with the consequences of those choices, the guilt that may never go away.  And for some, trying to make it right.

This is a book that I would read again and recommend for others to read.  Unwind is the first in a series, but it’s a great story by itself.  It sets you up for another story while giving the reader a sense of closure on the first part.  Unwholly is set to come out around August of 2012.   I am looking forward to reading it.

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The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Time Traveler’s Wife

For some reason I don’t quite understand, I have to read a book before I see the movie version. I say I don’t understand this because I am 99% of the time disappointed in the movie. I usually find them to be too short, missing crucial scenes, and just not on the same level. Because of this compulsion, I went and got The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. The film previews made me want to read the book before I saw the movie. After reading the book, I don’t see how the movie could be much worse.
The Time Traveler’s Wife has an incredibly intriguing premise. Henry is a man with the ability to travel through time, an ability that he has no control over whatsoever. When Henry travels, he brings only himself, no clothes, tools, or money. He teaches himself to pick locks, steal, and fight to survive anywhere he may end up. This leaves Clare, the woman who loves him, alone, waiting and worrying. I couldn’t wait to get started. The book began well, Henry meets Clare for the first time when he is 28 and she is 20; however, she had met him when she was 6 and he was 38. From there it goes into scenes from Henry’s numerous travels to Clare’s life as a child and his own. Niffenegger does a good job at first of giving the reader bits of the whole story piece by piece, forcing the reader to pay attention and make connections on her own. While I like this type of read, I found as the book went on there wasn’t always a connection, or I couldn’t always figure out what the connection was. Also, the flow of the story didn’t always match the importance of the scenes. There were times, such as the Christmas scene and Henry’s first travel, that seemed to go on in great detail, but nothing overly important was going on. Then towards the end of the book, important scenes seemed rushed and underdeveloped. Clare is an artist, she devotes all her time to her art, but I don’t remember her creating anything but a pair of wings for Henry late in the book.
One of my biggest problems with the book was the love between Clare and Henry. I never understood why Clare loves Henry so much, other than she was told she would. There is nothing remarkable about him that would justify what she goes through to be with him. When she meets him as an adult, he has very few redeeming characteristics, and she is waiting for him to become the man she knew as a child. I didn’t really like Clare either. She was selfish and obsessed. She enjoyed being the martyr. She was borderline pathetic.
My other big problem with the book was the lack of character development in the minor characters. In the part where Henry goes to Clare’s parent’s home for Christmas, there is much attention on Clare’s brother Mark and his pregnant girlfriend Sharon and Clare’s sister Alicia. Here the reader gets a lot of information about Clare’s family dynamic and her siblings. It seemed like background information for future information and the mingling of multiple plot lines, but no. There is almost nothing in the rest of the book about Clare’s siblings. There are merely mentioned in passing, even when they happen to be in the same room as the characters. There were some interesting characters, such as Alba, that I would have loved to get to know better.
I can’t say that I hated the book, I found it interesting. Also, I won’t say “Don’t waste your time” because many people have really loved this book. I personally felt this book was a waste of a great idea. It had great potential, but was poorly executed. Hopefully Niffenegger will write another book, but with better plot and character development.

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