Many authors find themselves facing “sophomore slump” when they write the second book in a series, but not Neil Shusterman! In fact, Unwholly is probably better than Unwind—and I didn’t think that would be possible. Aside from the fact that these books are so unique, the author does an amazing job creating his characters.
In Unwind, I found myself fully invested in Lev, Risa, and Connor. As Unwholly began to unfold, I was equally engrossed in their stories. But there were new characters introduced in Unwholly that really made this book! The one that stood out the most was Starkey. OMG. He is the ultimate antagonist. In fact, I found myself so disgusted with his character and his selfish motives, that I had a hard time reading Unwholly. I would get angry as I read and had to put the book down to cool off. That is powerful writing! For an author to create a villain that is so vile he makes me angry and bitter… wow. Starkey felt real. And I’m not saying that in some super bookish nerdy way either. All of the characters in this book were phenomenal.
Oh, did I mention there is also a modern Frankenstein element going on too? Yep. If you couldn’t tell, the guy on the cover is Cam—a boy created completely from the parts of unwinds. Every piece of his patchwork self was sculpted from living flesh of unwanted children. Creeptastic!
Enough about the amazing characters… the plot(s) need some attention as well. First off, when you look at this book it appears to be one large dystopian plot. But it is SO much more. Each character has his/her own story that is told individually through alternating points of view. Every single character! You would think that would make this a choppy read, but it flows seamlessly (no pun intended, Cam). Ultimately, all the individual plots merge into an action-packed climax that leaves you cursing some characters and aching for others. Stunning! It was flawless.
Above all of these incredible in their own right elements, the most amazing aspect of this book is the deep philosophical level that it brings. Ever since I read Unwind, I said this series needs to be discussed aloud. I still hold to that claim. In fact, I told my teacher friend that she needs to read this series to her 8th grade class (so I bought her a copy). Of course, I said to set the stage she had to build the background knowledge that the entire series centers around: who has the right to play God.
If you don’t know the basis of Unwind, it’s rather complicated. In a nutshell, however, it goes something like this: America could not come to an agreement over the Pro-choice and Pro-life debate, which led to the second Civil War. In an effort to reach an agreement, the government made a suggestion they thought would be so ridiculous that both sides would stop arguing. That didn’t happen though. Instead, both sides agreed to the terms and “unwinding” was born. Pro-life wins out from conception to age 13. From the 13th birthday until the 18th birthday, parents can choose to “unwind” their children (hello, Pro-choice) as long as Science uses every single part of the body. Can we say disturbing?
Keep all that in mind, and add in a character that is entirely created from the parts of unwinds in Unwholly. Now you have the philosophical elements because Cam questions the idea of having a soul. That was some seriously deep stuff in a YA novel! I loved it. Then there is Miracelina. She’s Catholic and wants to be unwound. Based on her religious beliefs and her decision to basically volunteer for suicide, another brilliant conversation about one’s soul emerged. I’m telling you, this book is brilliant and so is Neil Shusterman!
This is not a light-hearted YA dystopian. It is also not a story laden with teenage romance. If you want a feel-good story that leaves you smiling, you should also probably look elsewhere. But if you want a story that will have you questioning society’s values and human nature, then you should definitely read Unwholly!