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UnWholly - Neal Shusterman Review originally posted here: http://www.yourentertainmentcorner.com/?p=29958

I’m once again floored by Shusterman. Not only does he impress me with UnWholly, I think he eclipses what he did with the first book in the Unwind series. While the abortion debate is put on the backburner and the focus lies solely on the AWOL unwinds (runaway tends trying to escape their fate of being retroactively aborted) and what they do from here on out, the mystery to why unwinding began is solved. Sort of. We get a glimpse into why it came about, although it still isn’t clear to me why anyone thought this was a way to solve the problem of “feral teenagers.” The story sheds light on why teens are on the short end of the stick and how large organizations are backing the organ donation initiative. It kind of made me feel like corporations said, “Ooh! What a way to make money!” and ran with it. I guess that’s why unwinding is so popular, which leads me to another point: the sci-fi aspect still leaves a bit to be desired. I hate to nitpick about anything but I can’t buy adults having teenaged parts grafted onto their bodies. How does that work? They wouldn’t fit. So in this world most people are walking around with 13 to 18-year-old body parts? Wouldn’t that look odd? Yes, this is where my mind goes. Why else would I ignore a spine replacement surgery being successful? The whole point with spine injuries is there’s no way to stop scar tissue from forming on the spinal cord, so there’s not really a way to prevent/cure paralysis. But what do I know? I’m no scientist.

Observations and thoughts:

Even with the POVs switching between characters (Shusterman handles this brilliantly and like no other author I’ve encountered), there’s no way to really know how the story will turn out. I won’t say there are twists but UnWholly is anything but predictable. Shusterman points out the injustice of unwinding wayward teens but also points readers to the reason behind the idea. It begins with a war, the results of the war affecting teens and the actions those teens take in order to remain useful in society.

You can almost equate unwinding to sentencing teens to the death penalty. They become unruly, parents don’t want them or they hold no usefulness to society and therefore need to be dealt with. What better way than to kill them off in a lawful manner? Unwinding is nothing but a cover-up to make parents feel they are making a good decision for the life of their child. It’s nothing but a joke and Shusterman makes sure readers get all sides of the coin. You can make up your mind about unwinding and what’s to be done about it.

There’s not only one villain (Officer Nelson is back to make sure Conner pays for embarrassing him by escaping his evil clutches), but two. Starkey is a character who makes you realize unwinding might not be a bad choice for some kids. He’s an angry kid who needs to feel validated. He can be handled in other ways but his “parents” take the easy way out and choose to dispose of him. What they don’t realize is making that choice sets off a chain of events like a never-ending domino effect. This character is the catalyst to a few big events which occur, but he also sheds light on the unspoken side of unwanted kids. He’s a storked kid (babies left at a stranger’s door, becoming their responsibility) and it’s clear the treatment of these kids is subpar when compared to what happens with the average kid. So why does Shusterman make you love this character and then hate him with the fire of 1,000 suns? To make you understand where his (and other) parents are coming from when they sign those unwind documents. You may surprise yourself after reading this one.

Then there’s the cover. It features a young man with an interesting skin pattern. Coincidence? I think not. This cover boy is a new character Shusterman introduces to really throw readers for a loop. Cam is not your typical teenager and his story raises questions about the human soul, what it means to be human and the basis of existence. I grew to like Cam because of his vulnerability. He’s a victim of circumstance and that circumstance is unwinding.

I never know what to root for in these stories. Can I see a happy ending on the horizon? Should the tale play out to what would most likely happen, which won’t be happy for anyone? I can’t decide what I want to see happen, except that I want the characters in Unwind to continue along the path Shusterman has paved for them.

Get your thinking caps on and prepare to be blown away. Subtle hints allow readers to take away what they want from this tale (do unwinds truly continue to live in their divided state?), but the main point can’t be missed. Any accord brought about by two sides who can agree to disagree will only lead to revolt. I’d like to say the unwinding issue simply arrives at an impasse because both sides still have their beliefs and won’t just dismiss them over something so flawed. Of course there has to be something wrong with the Unwind Accord, right? I only hope we never have to be faced with the decisions the characters in UnWholly deal with. That is not a world I want to live in.
I recommend this novel for lovers of sci-fi, suspense, and serious thinkers. You may not come away from UnWholly either for or against unwinding, but you’ll never stop thinking about it. Well done, Mr. Shusterman. Well done.