A society often reveals its own degradation through what it perceives as moral. So what does Neal Shusterman say about our society through the amoral world of Unwind?
From the beginning, Unwind doesn’t shy away from social commentary. A second civil war, known as the Heartland War, was fought over abortion and gave way to a compromise. Abortion is illegal, but in its place come two measures. The first, known as unwinding, can be done between the ages of 13 and 18, when parents give their child up to be salvaged for parts, since technology has now been created with can preserve 100 percent (technically 99.44 percent, since the appendix and other “useless” organs are not included) of the human body to be held in incubators for transplant procedures. This is often done with troubled teens as a last resort for parents who don’t know what to do with their children.
The second, and less important, measure is called storking, in which parents can leave unwanted children on a stranger’s doorstep. So long as they are not caught, the owners of the doorstep are obliged to take the child (if they are caught, the biological mother is legally obliged to take the child, instead of storking it to another family).
Both of these measures have one thing in common from the start: both are parents attempting to escape their parental responsibility at the expense of the child. The expense of the child is especially strong in unwinding, wherein teenagers are ruled to no longer legally exist once the papers are signed.
The story follows three AWOLs (runaway teenagers destined for unwinding). Connor is a teenager with respect issues. Risa is a music protégé at an orphanage that is using unwinding to cut its costs. Levi, known as Lev, is a “tithe,” the tenth boy in a religious family, destined by tradition to be unwound.
Connor runs off after seeing the papers on his father’s desk. The Juvey Cops catch up with him, but he resists arrest, sees Lev, and uses him as a hostage to get away. The ruckus causes the bus Risa is on to overturn, allowing her to escape. The three of them travel together, but Lev is vehemently opposed, believing it his duty as a God-fearing Jew to be unwound.
Two other important characters we meet along the way are Roland and CyFi. Roland, being another teenager destined for unwinding, provides a sharp contrast to our three primary antagonists. He is a selfish and arrogant person, and even tries to force himself on Risa at one point (thankfully, he fails). CyFi is a child Lev meets who has an eighth of a brain of someone who was unwound. This causes CyFi to have a slightly split personality, as he occasionally feels the other boy’s emotions and can even see him in the mirror sometimes.
The book takes their journey through many twists and turns, most of which are through a network that is a sort of Underground Railroad for AWOLs. The book contains an uncanny amount of references to aspects of the abortion debate. Take for example, their euphemism for being unwound. They argue the child never actually dies since their parts are alive, and refers to being unwound as the “divided state.” This compares to those who support abortion (doesn’t “pro-choice” sound so much more positive than “pro-abortion?), who insist an unborn child is not actually alive. The parents of unwound children are portrayed as desperate, which mothers who abort often are. Shusterman does not downplay the difficulty of their circumstances, but he does not portray their decisions as justifiable, either. There’s even a reference to the Gosnell-esque “chop shops” in people called parts pirates who do similar work to unwinding, only off the books. Again, Shusterman portrays these individuals as evil, but does not excuse the “legal” unwinding procedure as desirable or even necessary.
The implications are obvious. A lack of respect for God-ordained life leads us to the point that we do not consider salvaging humans for parts immoral. In fact, in the sequel, the culture will even go so far as to call it moral. This is where our culture is leading. We best heed Unwind’s warning before it’s too late.
*Editor’s note: Lev was originally identified incorrectly as Jewish. This has been corrected in the current version.