Monday, January 21, 2019

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Unwind (Unwind, #1)Unwind by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Several people on goodreads suggested that this book is a horror. I don't know what makes something a horror, but I don't think this is it. There are some disturbing parts, and it is kind of dark overall, but I don't know that I was constantly in fear, which is how I would expect a horror to be.

Did I like this book? Hard to say. It was both really good and really bad.

The Really Bad:
Setting. The setting is underdeveloped. The future seems a lot like today. Sure, iPods are antiques, but he still gets tracked by his cell phone? Other than morbid surgery techniques, there is no new technology. Also, American culture seems to be about the same despite the passage of time, except the teenage pregnancy problem and the legality of storking. The constant reference to solid family structures already feels outdated, which is sad. Most homes they encounter in the story have two parents.

Plot. This is my biggest issue, and the reason I can't call this a good book. Why would parents ever sign an unwind order? The way this is structured, parents are forced to keep the child through the most taxing, most expensive years, which happen to be the years that true emotional attachment is formed. Once you're past that, I don't see the motivation for anyone to unwind their kids. Shusterman tries to make it sound logical, but he fails. No divorce agreement would unwind a kid. A kids misbehavior wouldn't do it either. Think of all of the criminals in jail that still have mothers that love them. In the occasional cases where someone would sign an unwind order they usually would have to have a pretty unstable past themselves, and if that is as prevalent as it is made out to be, their society would be showing all kinds of other negative affects, which it wasn't. Everyone seemed to be functioning "normally". It has the potential to be an interesting book, but with such a shaky foundation as the basis for the concept of unwinding it is a non starter. All I can think of is that Shusterman doesn't have kids of his own, so doesn't understand how it feels to be a parent. That or the world is full of really crappy parents and I'm just out of touch (I don't think so.) (EDIT: Wikipedia says he lives with his four kids. I don't understand how he thinks this is a plausible plot.)

The characters were the one thing that was done well in this book. The author shows you the good and bad in everybody. By the end you care about Roland. You question the Admiral. Connor is starting to get over some of his weaknesses, but now has transplants himself. Risa has strong principles, but is now partly paralyzed. You get involved in all the characters. He walked the line, and successfully managed to save all of the main protagonists, yet none of them made it through unscathed, and none of them have an easy path in front of them. That was a job well done, and might alone be enough to get me reading the next book. Let this be a lesson to young authors ( and me.) Great characters can overcome just about every other sin a writer may commit.

A final thought. Yes, this book is tackling a social issue that has been politicized and is a core debate about our values as a country and society. A few times that discussion is addressed so directly that it distracts from the story, in my opinion. In the end though, it is not an effective platform for the discussion for two reasons. First, the plot weaknesses already mentioned don't give readers a good basis for debate. It is difficult to extend a fictional setting and use it to think about real life when it has deep flaws-- not perceived flaws in its morality, but logical flaws in its structure. No one is going to sign an unwind order.

Second, the abortion issue has become what is called a Sucker's Choice. It has been polarized into two opposing camps that have become so far apart that they resort to violence rather than dialogue. (I'm borrowing this from Crucial Conversations and Leadership and Self Deception. ) Until there are more than two options on the table, no discussion is likely to see progress towards a solution. To me an obvious option to the discussion that no one talks about (and there is more than one) is to focus on stopping the conception of unwanted babies. Contemporary combatants in this discussion don't give that concept real attention, and this book doesn't either. So is this a great read for high school English classes to sharpen their critical thinking skills on? Probably not. You'd be presenting them with a dilemma that has already been backed into the Sucker's Choice corner of useless political debate. And that teaches them nothing but how to be divisive, not how to find solutions to tough problems.