Review: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

You may remember that I really liked Scythe that time I tried to do a book marathon, so recently, I finally got around to reading a book by the same author. (I guess now is a great time to read about dystopias other than our own for a bit of escape, right?)

So let’s talk about it!

Unwind by Neal Shusterman


So this is a dystopian novel about a future that takes place in the aftermath of a civil war between pro-choice and pro-life sides in the United States. The solution, which is a complete WTF, is that no babies can be aborted and all life is protected until the age of 13, after which parents (or the state) can choose to “unwind” their teen, a process that takes them apart piece by piece to be used to repair or enhance other bodies.

(Life is also protected after adulthood, so it’s just teenagers who get subjected to this nonsense.)

If you’ve read Scythe, which is a more recent novel by Shusterman (more of a utopian than a dystopian world, but definitely with systemic problems), then you’ll see a lot of similar elements here. He seems to like his young male protagonists to be a bit violent but noble, and doesn’t shy from power-hungry, manipulative antagonists. (Or problematic but repentant mentors. And so on.) He also likes including fringe cult groups in his worldbuilding, and they’re a more key part of the novel here, although I can’t speak to the whole series in either case.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with these similarities, but it does put a damper on the feeling of originality that this premise carries otherwise. And this book is worth reading for its premise, as whacky as it sounds, because the author is a master of making it seem really, really chilling. Being that I review YA books all of the time, I’m used to how messed up dystopias are in this genre of novel, but I was seriously, viscerally uncomfortable at points in this book.

(Also, there’s a popular fan video for this book out there, but I can just barely skim through it so I’ll have to take the word of so many views that it’s good. Nope nope nope reading about this was difficult enough, thanks.)

This book is always moving forward and switches perspectives as necessary, so it’ll certainly never bore you. (I find Shusterman’s perspective flips to be pretty fluid, both here and in Scythe, but your mileage may vary if you hate that sort of thing.)

It kind of lacked the character development of Scythe, though, and I found that a lot of the time we spent with characters like Risa, we spent fixating on Connor anyway, so her character started strong and kind of fell more flat than I would’ve liked. (This was one exception to the perspective-flipping feeling fluid, because sometimes I plum forgot we were in Risa’s head because it was all about someone else.)

This is definitely full of Tragic Backstories, which I’m a sucker for, but I wish I’d had more time to invest in the characters so that these things had more of an impact. It’s wild to think that this became a four-book series with companion novels, because it feels like the first book is racing to the finish line without time for petty things like character traits and exposition.

If you read dystopians because you are looking for action, extremely chilling scenes/villains, and teens who won’t give up when the going gets impossibly tough, then this is probably a good pick for you. Having read Scythe and knowing the author is capable of more depth (while also feeling a spot of deja vu with the character archetypes), this one might’ve lost half a star with me it would’ve had otherwise? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not sure if I wouldn’t felt compelled to read the whole dystology either way, and if I rate something 3+, I usually feel compelled to continue.

But it’s also the kind of book I would love to see as a movie, because I think the fast pace would translate well and being able to see the actors (provided they were suitable, well, good at acting) would probably allow for more character-building nuances.


What are some of your favourite dystopian novels? What not-movie books would you love to see on screen? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

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