Rewind back to my freshman Spanish class. Some leather-jacket-wearing kid whose glasses are about a foot thick leans over and says, “Hey, you should read this book—it’s really cool.” I peruse the back cover but, confident and worldy in my appreciation for “good” books by authors lke Jane Austen and J.R.R. Tolkien. I politely tell him I’ll “think about it” and then promptly forget I’d ever heard of Neal Shusterman or Unwind.
After all, what could one greasy-haired 14-year-old boy possibly know about “good” books?
Jump forward a little bit, and I’ve just created a Goodreads account. Twilight, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and The Hunger Games are everywhere. But so is Unwind. I scoff, but figure I should do as Goodreaders do, so I buy the book. It, sadly, collects dust on my shelf. Once again, I forget I’d ever heard of it.
It is also my belief that “good” books, books worth reading, are like that annoying kid with sticky fingers at a family Christmas dinner. The book—and the kid—won’t leave you alone until you give it the attention it thinks it deserves.
In the end, I broke down and read Unwind. Unwillingly, suspciously, and with a good dose of “let’s just get this over already so I can get to the ‘good’ books” attitude.
Imagine my surprise, about halfway through Unwind, to discover that Neal Shusterman had actually written a “good” book—maybe even more than good. The feeling of “goodness” sneaked up on me, and I didn’t notice how much I loved Unwind until I was flipping pages like a oxygen-starved skydiver, desperate to see what happened, and when I got to the last page I sat, panting, on my couch, still without oxygen, but not sure I really needed to breathe after all.
I met Connor, Risa, and Lev. Three kids with very different backgrounds and motivations. All three of them were unique, all three had a story to tell and a special light to cast on the situation. Each had a distinct narrative voice, and I loved them equally but separately. That, in my opinion, is a very hard thing to do in a novel. If Shusterman played favorites with his characters, he didn’t portray them in a way that forced his readers to do the same.
I was introduced to the New World. Children’s bodies sold to the highest bidder, cut into and dismantled before their waking eyes; babies dropped at strangers’ doorsteps by parents who have better things to do than raise a child. Christian fantatics who believe that God wants them to tithe everything—even their children. It was a frighteningly situation, and though I had questions that had no answers, I didn’t doubt the plausibility of this “future”.
I watched our three main characters grow and develop, learn things about themselves, their society, and human nature. I watched each character take a different response to their “death sentence” and I watched how their choices played out. I even watched one character as s/he was being Unwound, and though I didn’t like her/him very much in life, I was moved to sympathetic horror by her/his death.
I felt. While I read this book, I felt. I’m not easily moved to emotions while I read. I don’t cry; I laugh only occasionally. But while I read Unwind, I felt.
I don’t remember that boy’s name, the one from my Spanish class. Turns out, he was right and I was wrong. Unwind is a good book after all.