Book Review: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Unwind by Neal Shusterman YA dystopian dramaUnwind by Neal Shusterman: 3 out of 5 stars

Unwind is a YA dystopian drama that takes on the weighty topic of unwanted children. The twist here is that while terminations of pregnancy are illegal, parents may choose to end their children’s lives once they reach their teens. Unlucky adolescents aged 13-18 face being ‘unwound’ and their body parts recycled for medical use.

Unwind follows the stories of three very different youngsters destined to be unwound: rebellious Connor, unremarkable orphan Risa and beatific sacrifice Lev.

A little too polished

On the surface of it, Unwind should be a 5-star read. A controversial subject, an action-packed storyline and characters destined to appeal to the YA reader. But this is part of the problem for me. Sure, all the YA targets are resoundingly hit. But it’s done in a way that feels a bit too slick and maybe even calculating.

I found it hard to truly empathise with the main characters. Now and again, more so with Lev, there were flashes of real feeling. But for too much of the novel, it felt like the author was struggling to justify events he had already written into the plot.

It also had quite a heavy didactic feel. This surprised me, Even in better know genre tales like Divergent, the reader is allowed to discover who is right and who is wrong by themselves through the classic show don’t tell. Unwind batters you over the head with the message that Unwinding Is A Bad Thing pretty much from the first page.

Intriguing sections for male YA readers

However, it’s not all bad. I shoud point out that if you are looking for YA fiction for male readers, this is definitely a better option than The Maze Runner. There are some intriguing sections looking at definitions of bravery, masculinity and honour amongst teenage boys. Father – son relationships and the uneasy transition from needy child to independent adult, and the difficult choices involved are dealt with well.

Unfortunately, the strengths of the story for boys are not mirrored for girls through Risa, the girl from the children’s home. Given how she is introduced, I expected her to be a central character in her own right, but by halfway through, she’s reduced to little more than a stereotypical plot device, leaving a novel very firmly for the boys.

A rant about gender marketing in YA

Being optimistic, I suppose this isn’t an entirely bad thing, given the preponderance of genre stories marketed towards female readers as Mills and Boon, set in post apocalyptic surroundings. But is it so wrong to want stories for people? For readers rather than for prescribed, outdated ideas of genders? Little Brother is the gold standard for me in this respect, which unfortunately Unwind doesn’t reach.

Recommended for…

For reluctant male readers, Unwind has enough action, fast-paced plot development and high octane gadgets to keep them going right until the last page. Just don’t expect the philosophical side to keep up. A fun, but forgettable read.




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