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Unwholly by Neal Shusterman

Book #2 in the Unwind trilogy

ISBN 9781442423688

Kindle Edition

Genre:  Post Apocalyptic Dystopian Society, Young Adult, Science Fiction

If you have not read UnWind you should not read this review, it contains spoilers for the first book.  I will warn before I include spoilers for Unwholly.

UnWholly takes place fairly soon after the ending of Unwind.   Conner is now in charge of the Graveyard.  Risa is paralyzed from the waist down after the Happy Jack explosion and in charge of medical help at the Graveyard.  Levi is trying to lead a normal life after being labeled “The clapper who did not clap.”  We also meet Starky, a storked baby who is grew up knowing his “adoptive” parents saw him more of an obligation than a blessing.    He was scheduled to be unwound but escaped while in transport, much like Conner.  However, unlike Conner, Starky is violent, controlling, manipulative, and dangerous. There is also Miracolina, a tithed child much like Levi, Nelson, the Juvy cop humiliated by Conner during his escape who is out for revenge, and Cam, a new kind of being, made completely of unwound parts.

Shusterman explains in this book how the world we know became the world where post birth abortions became acceptable.  He takes the collapse of the education system in our county and shows the disasterous consequences.  Young adults with no skills, who cannot find jobs, become homeless.  They are angy at the government that failed them and becoming violent and demanding.  A war followed and the worst compromise, unwinding, was the anwer.  I would like to think that our society, that people would never make this choice, but this article and this one show that some would. (Yes I do realize that both articles discuss the same people, but they were from two different times this year so it’s still out there)

*******************SPOILER ************

Shusterman creates such believable characters that I grew to love and hate.  There are few fictional charaters who I hate more than Starky.  Serioulsy, hate the guy.  I read another reviewer says she wanted to rip his throat out with her teeth and I thought, “Yep, pretty much”.  While he does many unforgivable things in the book, what he does to sabotage the Graveyard’s survival is way past awful.  I hate him for leaving all those poor kids to die while saving his own group.  I hope in the next book someone kills him, badly.

These books are so hard to read because the world these kids live in is so depressing, I love how Shusterman creates characters with such a capacity for love and a desire to help each other.  I was not expecting to admire Cam as much as I do, and root for him to find love and acceptance.

I love this series so far.  Shusterman has created such amazing people who have such a power for love in this horrific society.  I cannot wait to read Unsouled, which at this time does not seem to have a release date.  We’re all hoping it’s soon.  If you can’t wait, you can check out UnShattered.  It’s one of those 1.5 novels that have become so popular.  The mini-book (don’t know if that’s what others are calling it, but that’s what I am calling it) shows Levi’s experience before he decided to become a clapper.  Not bad.  It does introduce at least one character that comes to play in UnWholly.  Me, I went and checked out Everlost, the first book in Neal Shusterman’s Skinjacker Trilogy.  Hopefully it will be just as good.


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The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter By Kim Edwards

ISBN 0143037145

Genre Fiction

Audio Book

I don’t normally listen to audio books, actually I never do.  I don’t drive for long periods of time on a regular basis.  But when I got to drive from Houston, Texas to Kansas City, Missouri with only my 14 month old daughter and two dogs (my husband was driving the moving truck) it seemed like the best time to bring out a book on tape, well CD actually.  So there I was on a 12+ hour drive with nothing to do but listen to a book.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter is about a doctor, David Henry, his wife, Norah Henry, and the nurse Caroline Gil.  On a frozen winter night, Dr. David Henry has to deliver his wife’s baby with the help of his nurse Caroline Gil.  After the birth of their son, who Norah names Paul; David realizes that she was actually pregnant with twins.  While Paul was “perfect” in every way, the baby girl has Down Syndrome.  David makes a quick decision to send the baby girl to a home to be raised, it was said in the book that this was a common practice in the 60s.  He hands her to Caroline to take away and tells his wife the baby girl died.  Caroline takes the baby to the home, but cannot bring herself to leave her there, so she takes her home hoping that David will change his mind.  He does not.  He continues with the lie that the baby died and he and his wife hold a memorial service. Caroline then leaves town with the baby whom she named Phoebe( it was what the mother would have named the baby).

As the story progresses, Caroline raises Phoebe as her own child.  She meets friends and a nice man named Al who offer her love and support.  David and Norah’s life goes a little different.  Norah feels extreme grief over the death of her child.  David’s feelings of guilt cause him to refuse to talk about Phoebe and when Norah says she wants to have another baby, David refuses.  He secretly fears that another baby will also have Down syndrome.  They grow further and further apart with David’s secrets and Norah’s grief.  David throws himself into his work and hobby of photography while Norah and Paul feel neglected.

This book is sad.  Depressing actually.  And not in a good way like Romeo and Juliet or The Book Thief (my review of The Book Thief .  It’s sad like Revolutionary Road, a sad that doesn’t feel cathartic, but in a way that makes you not like people for a little while.  (Disclaimer, I never finished Revolutionary Road because I found it upsetting, but I read the whole summary)  The characters in this book are not likeable.  The author explains David’s decision by explaining that his sister died young, and her death destroyed his mother.  He did not want Norah to go through the same thing.  I do not think this excuses or justifies his actions.  He did not want to go through the pain of losing his daughter.  He was selfish, and continued to act selfishly the rest of the story.

************SPOILER ALERT*************

I cannot get over what Caroline did to Norah.  I am not forgiving what David did, but it seemed like Caroline came off as a good guy and David came off as a bad guy.  David spent the rest of his life feeling guilty, Caroline felt just a little guilty.  Caroline took another woman’s baby.  She took it away knowing Norah had no knowledge of any of this.  Norah thought her baby was dead for over 20 years.  If I was Norah, I would have called the cops and had Caroline arrested for kidnapping.  Maybe she’s a better person than I am allowing Phoebe to remain with the woman she feels is her mother, but I could not be so tolerant.  The more I think about it the more it angers me what Caroline did.  Don’t get me wrong, I am mad at David too, but all Caroline had to do was go to Norah and tell her.   Caroline was selfish.  She was lonely and wanted a baby.  She felt righteous in taking the baby away from the home, but she took the baby away from the mother.  She kept in touch with David through the years, but never thought the best thing to do was go to Norah.  I cannot forgive what Caroline did; my mom says this is what having a baby does to you.  I feel for Norah, it makes my heart hurt.  And that is the main reason I did not like the book.  What David and Caroline did to Norah was unforgivable.

I would not read this book again and would not refer it to a friend.  It wasn’t actually bad, but I don’t feel it has anything to offer.  I probably would not have finished it if not for the very long drive.

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Insurgent by Veronica Roth Book #2 of the Divergent Trilogy

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

I love the premise to this series. People are put into different factions based on their interests and skills. While they are told which faction they are best suited for, ultimately they choose their own. If they choose one that they are not suited for and fail initiation, they are exiled from the community and live with the factionless. This is all explained in book 1, Divergent.

This story is very difficult to explain in a few words. There are many characters, it’s a complex world they live in, and things are definitely not what you think they are. Basically, it’s about people trying to take control, the people fighting against them, and those caught in between. If you haven’t read Divergent recently I suggest you going back and re-read it before opening Insurgent. The characters are often referring to situations that happened in the first story. If you haven’t read Divergent, you shouldn’t read Insurgent, or even this review

At the end of Divergent and throughout this book, Tris and Four and their allies have to worry about the simulation, a machine that can control people from a remote location.  The idea of mind control is frightening. Tris is trying to figure out how to fight against people who are innocent–and sometimes her friends–when they are trying to kill her.  She knows they have no control over their actions but she has to protect herself and those around her. She also has to come to terms with killing her friend Will while he was under the simulation. And other characters from have to live with knowing they killed a lot of innocent people while they themselves where under the simulation.

I did not love Insurgent as much as I loved Divergent, but I was still a good book. I found at times I had to re read sections of the book because I felt I missed something.  Then when I went back through, I realized details were left out. I was getting annoyed with Tris and her constant mood swings. I understand she just went through a traumatic experience, but one moment she’s all bad ass and the next she’s huddling in a corner. She’s so distressed she can’t hold a gun, but she can stab a guy in the neck with a knife. Maybe it’s just me, but she was getting a little irritating. I don’t know, maybe that makes her more realistic. I still loved the book. I don’t have to love all the characters all the time. The ending was a cliffhanger, left me frustrated and yelling “ARG” just the way a cliffhanger should. The next book, which Roth is jokingly (I hope) referring to as Detergent, is scheduled to come out August 2013.

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If I Stay

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

I heard about this book awhile back and finally got my hands on it on Saturday, and finished it Monday. Pardon the cliché, but I could not put it down. I was mesmerized by it. The story is told from the perspective of Mia, a seventeen year old girl, who is stuck between living and dying. She is watching herself and those around her from outside her body almost like a ghost. Mia watches herself while the doctors and nurses try to keep her alive and her friends and family come to visit her, we get flashes of her life. She has a life most teenagers would love; cool, funky parents, a wonderful rocker boyfriend, a best friend to confide in, and a younger brother that she feels is practically her own.

Mia realizes that whether she lives or dies is up to her. Now, all alone, she has to make what is probably the hardest decision imaginable. How can she go on without her family? How can she leave when so many people love her?

At first I didn’t think I was going to like it. It started off a little gruesome. It begins with a horrific car accident where both of Mia’s parents die instantly. There is a short but vivid description of both of them. Then I was captivated by the narration. The author does a wonderful job capturing the pain of the characters in the book. Foreman organizes the story like someone who is thinking of memories. Not necessarily in chronological order, just what comes to mind when things happen. It is easy for the reader to get confused with a structure like this, trying to remember what happened before this scene, or which events came first in time. But the author lays out Mia’s life so well, I never allowing the reader to loose track of the story line.

I was brought to tears many times while reading this book. I tried not to think about myself in Mia’s shoes because it would be too painful to imagine. I have no idea what choice I would make either as my 17 year old self loosing my parents, or my 30 year old self with my husband, and … Nope, not going to think about it! The ending was perfect. I loved it so much that I immediately went and got the second book. And when I say immediately, I mean I closed the book, stood up and went to get Where She Went (which was also amazing).

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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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