Neal Shusterman has been one of my go-to authors for quite a while. His novels are excellent choices for readers who like fast-paced adventures, true-to-life characters and thought-provoking plots.
Imagine my squeals of delight when I found out Shusterman is coming to Joplin on Feb. 28 (for those who can’t imagine, they sounded a lot like “yeeeee!”). Not only is Shusterman coming to Joplin, he is coming to Joplin free of charge (queue more fangirl squeals).
In his book “Unwind,” Shusterman chose Joplin as an important destination for some of his characters because Joplin “jumped out at (him) as the right one to choose.” When Shusterman saw the news coverage of the May 22 tornado, he decided it was time to visit the town that plays such an important roll in “Unwind.” I can’t really tell you about the scenes that take place in Joplin without spoiling parts of the book for you, so read the book to find out for yourself.
The future America in which “Unwind” is set has solved the debate (and subsequent war) over abortion with constitutional amendments that make up the Bill of Life. The Bill of Life makes abortion illegal, but allows parents the option to “retroactively abort” their child once he is between the ages of 13 and 18, as long as life does not technically end.
To accomplish this, the teen goes through a process called “unwinding,” in which his entire body is broken into transplants for the sick or injured. While the teen is not alive in a single form, his life goes on in hundreds of different pieces Ñ so it doesn’t technically end.
Connor, Risa and Lev are three teens who are set to be unwound. Connor is an angry and troubled teen whose parents have signed the unwind papers while Risa is an orphan whose good (but not excellent) piano skills are not enough to justify the state spending money on keeping her in one piece.
Lev, on the other hand, is a tithe. He has known his entire life that he will be unwound at the age of 13 because it is God’s will.
When Connor goes AWOL and runs away, his journey literally crashes him into Risa and Lev. Together, the three might be able to avoid the harvest camps and their unwindings as long as Lev doesn’t sabotage their plans.
I’ve read several of Shusterman’s books, but “Unwind” is by far the most thought-provoking and intense of the bunch. He delves into an incredibly divisive issue without moralizing or showing a preference for one side or the other.
Connor, Risa and Lev are fully realized characters who are easy to empathize with. The events of the book are fast-paced and gripping. Regardless of whether readers are pro-life or pro-choice, “Unwind” is a frightening read Ñ the description of the unwinding process, written without blood and gore, is one of the most horrifying scenes I’ve ever read.
I highly recommend “Unwind” for older teens and adults.
Shusterman will spend the bulk of the day on Feb. 28 at the Joplin schools, and will be in the Joplin Public Library’s large meeting room at 5:30 p.m. for a presentation and book signing, which is open to the public. Select titles, including “Unwind,” will be available for purchase at the event courtesy of Changing Hands Book Shoppe.