Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Unwind coverConnor’s parents have had enough of his attitude. Risa, a ward of the state, has not proven herself valuable enough to merit continued taxpayer-funded support. Lev, the tenth child of a large, religious family, has been raised to offer himself up for the good of humanity. All three are on their way to an unwinding camp, where they will be disassembled, their parts used to repair others suffering injury or disease.

In Shusterman’s imagined future, the pro-life/pro-choice debate has brought the US to the point of war. The compromise that ended the war was this: a pregnancy may not be aborted, but between the ages of 13 and 18, a child may be turned over to the government for unwinding. Because the unwound are kept conscious through the whole of the procedure, they are not considered dead, but altered (there is evidence to support this argument toward the end of the novel), so that parents retain the right to decide whether they wish to bring a child to adulthood without threatening the sanctity of life. An unlikely scenario, perhaps, but one that is presented with enough skill to enable readers to suspend disbelief and consider a fresh perspective on an issue whose implications for both sides tend to leave little room for discussion. Remarkably, Unwind manages to challenge the reader without championing one side over the other. Instead, as good stories should, it opens the door to questions, and allows readers to wrestle with the answers for themselves.

Audio edition highly recommended.

Read reviews from the New York Times and The Page Sage.

This short film, based on the world presented in Unwind, is very well done. However, it will make more sense if you’ve already read the book:

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Ten: Books that Must Be Heard

There’s been plenty of debate in recent years regarding the legitimacy of “reading” a book by listening to an audiobook edition. Personally, I’m a huge fan of audiobooks. This is partly because they allow me to read while I wash the dishes — walk the dog — do the laundry — drive, and partly because, at least in some cases, audiobooks can add a lot to the experience of a book.* Have a reader who’s unsure about pronunciation? Who wants to know what people in a particular area sound like? Who has trouble pushing through difficult passages? Just want to recommend the best possible reading experience? Try these:

Life of Pi by Yann Martel, narrated by Jeff Woodman with Alexander Marshall
Woodman creates a very satisfying Pi Patel, but I was especially impressed with his handling of conversations between Pi and the French and Japanese characters toward the end of the novel. Pulling off multiple accents at the same time wins this one big points.

The Moor by Laurie R. King, narrated by Jenny Stirlin
Another title particularly notable for its accents. Jenny Stirlin does a fantastic job of all of the Mary Russell books (which should suit many older teens very well — picture a young feminist, partnered with Sherlock Holmes in a detailed 1920s setting, solving mysteries all over the world). But how often do you come across such a convincing portrayal of a Moorish dialect?

Unwind by Neal Shusterman, narrated by Luke Daniels
You can read about the story in the full review, but I will say that the most intense scene in the book is made by the audio presentation.

Feed by M.T. Anderson, narrated by David Aaron Baker
An abundance of (purposeful) coarse language means readers will probably want to listen to Feed with headphones. However, the choice to present the samples of the characters’ commercial feed like commercials is very effective. Continue reading

Ten: Guess What I Can Do!

Kids’ and teens’ books are full of characters with talents and abilities that don’t quite fit in. The difficulty of accepting these differences adds weight to the burden of growing up, but it also offers a point of familiarity for readers who feel out of place in life. This week’s Ten looks at the experience of otherness from various angles, with particular interest in the common secondary theme of recognising the power bestowed by that otherness and the importance of learning to use said power responsibly.

Dreamcatcher by Monica Hughes
In the midst of a community of gifted people, Ruth’s gifts mostly just cause trouble. When she starts receiving messages from outside of the city’s dome, however, Ruth and her gifts are proven valuable not only to her own community, but also to another community in need of help that Ruth is particularly suited to offer. Be sure to read Devil on my Back, first. Continue reading

Bruiser by Neal Shusterman

Bruiser coverBrontë and Tennyson are at odds again. Soft-hearted Brontë has started dating local mystery Brewster Rawlins. Tennyson doesn’t want a guy nicknamed “Bruiser” anywhere near his twin sister. When Brontë accuses her brother of being a snob and a bully, Tennyson follows Brewster home from school, looking for further arguments against the relationship. Instead, he finds himself drawn into Brewster’s story. As the truth about Brewster gradually becomes clear — who he is, what he can do, and the price he pays — Brontë and Tennyson discover that this new friendship requires more of them than either knew they had to offer.

I picked up this book both because I had enjoyed Neal Shusterman’s Unwind and because the premise reminded me of one of the most intriguing gifts in Zenna Henderson’s People stories — the ability to literally share someone else’s pain. What I found was that, once again, Shusterman had told a great story that left me thinking about something deep: in this case, the role of suffering in relationships and in personal development. The choice to tell the story not only in four different voices — those of Brontë, Tennyson, Brewster, and Brewster’s little brother, Cody — but also in four different forms (Brewster’s chapters, for example, are written entirely in verse, while Cody’s are presented in stream-of-consciousness form) adds further distinction to already well-developed and dynamic characters. Readers willing to follow the somewhat complicated path of the narrative will find themselves engaged in both the unravelling of Brewster’s secret and the overarching exploration of the cost — and value — of suffering.

Read the Kirkus or Publishers Weekly review (warning: both reviews contain significant spoilers).

Read a sample

Watch a book trailer: