As fans of the Unwind series know, things have gotten really complicated for Connor. He’s gone from being a renegade kid to an infamous hero, to a man without much on his side, driving across the country with an ex-clapper. But it’s not really about numbers. That much is clear in Neal Shusterman’s dark and thought-provoking tale.
In fact, it might just be that being in the majority would more likely guarantee your sin. While the whole country continues to support unwinding, Connor and Lev seek out an old friend, determined to uncover the truth of unwinding’s genesis and the inception of Proactive Citizenry.
One of the Neal Shusterman’s assets that is both a strength and a weakness is that there’s always a lot going on at the same time in his stories. Such is the case here. On the one hand, we have Connor and Lev driving across the country, while introducing two brand-new characters, having Starkey beginning his misguided reign of terror, a shamed parts pirate chasing with bloodlust after Connor, Risa making her own escape, and Cam finding a way to chase after Risa. That’s a lot to take in. He pulls it off very well, but you really have to pay attention while you’re reading, otherwise it’s easy to get lost.
Let’s start with the two new characters. It’s a brother and a sister, named Argent and Grace respectively. Argent is obsessed with Connor and getting his approval, so naturally, he knocks him out and ties him up in his basement. Grace on the other hand, who is low-cortical (future lingo for mentally handicapped—she appears to be “slow,” or have a learning disability of some kind), is kind, but often abused by her brother. Grace quickly becomes a friend, and as it turns out, is a brilliant strategist and can beat anyone at a game.
Then we have Starkey. His appetite for violence grows quickly throughout the novel, and that combined with his sheer arrogance starts to put people off, including his second-in-command, Bam. This book shows his transition from antihero to straight-up villain, and makes the reader regret feeling sorry for the devil in the previous book.
Then there’s the respective adventures of our original three heroes. Connor and Lev soon find themselves in need and go to an Indiana reservation, away from the reach of the Juvey cops. Here we learn quite a bit about the mysterious period in Lev’s life between his friendship with CyFi and becoming a clapper. It explains a lot about his psyche, even if this part of their trip takes up too much of the book.
Then there’s Risa, who is again on the run after escaping from Proactive Citizenry. Granted, Cam is still determined to make her fall in love with him, and, of course, we have an awkward love triangle starting when it should be a no-brainer for the girl.
Cam himself continues to be a source of intellectual and spiritual tension. He was created with the parts of unwound (let’s be honest, murdered) children, but does that make him evil? He didn’t choose to be made, yet his existence is an expression of abomination. He’s also not the greatest person in the world, intent on the demise of Connor, the only obstacle in his mind between him and Risa.
So to recap, a trillion things are happening at once.
It’s a transition book in a lot of ways. This part of the story is not as worldview-heavy as the previous two have been, and a result, it’s not quite as good. It’s still a solid four stars, however, and it still explores important questions. These questions, however, are less about the morality of the unwinding practice (and by extension, we can assume, abortion) and are more about the characters themselves. It’s about Lev’s struggle to leave the only place he can call home. It’s about Connor’s controlling nature and his struggle to lead when he’s already failed. It’s about Risa and her struggle with the complication known as Cam. It’s about Cam and the complications of his own nature.
There is certainly a lot of plot, but the nature of this book is that it is character-driven, not plot-driven. That makes it interesting. While not as riveting as the previous two installments, UnSouled still asks a lot of important questions, and takes a look at the issue from a different perspective: how do people respond to these moral dilemmas? How does it affect them? That’s a question worth considering. And it’s a book worth reading.