Book Review: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

An interesting—and impressive–form of sci-fi is the book that takes a ridiculous premise and runs with it. In Unwind, the USA fought a civil war between pro-life and pro-choice armies. To end the war, they made an agreement that life begins at conception, but that from age 13 to 18, a person could be “unwound.” These “unwinds” lives “continue” because doctors use their body parts to replace those of people who need (or simply want) a replacement.

Once you swallow this starting point, he tells a powerful story of the consequences for three unwinds: one a screwup whose parents can’t deal with him anymore, another a “tithing” from his religious family, and the third a ward of the state subject to budget cuts.

While the details seem ridiculous, they highlight how politics around such decisions can turn children into instruments. Victory in the ideological battle trumps what is actually best for the people they affect.

The author doesn’t make any commentary on abortion policies, but I found the book an expression of frustration with the politics around abortion. In a recent discussion, my wife wondered what would happen if we took all the resources that we have poured into lobbying for changes in abortion law and instead poured them into maternal care? What if we provided support to parents without strings? How many women would choose to keep their children? How many children would face a better life? Could we bring down our tragically high maternal and infant mortality rates?

This was a well-written and entertaining YA sci-fi read. It did not directly ask many of the questions in this post, but it inspired those questions. This is the sci-fi I love.

Book Review: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

My wife and I share a digital library account, so I sometimes end up listening to the audiobooks that she checks out. I don’t know if she’s ever listened to a book I checked out, but one of these days I’ll get her. This book was one of hers. I’m glad I picked it up!

Lessons in Chemistry is a feminist criticism of sexism in science, television, and the workplace couched in the fictional journey of Elizabeth Zott, a scientist-turned-tv-star. The book had me alternately laughing and outraged. While fictional, I’ve read plenty of court cases that support some of the worst misogyny she faces.

The structure of the book was fascinating and impressive, if a little confusing. Early on, the book enters a long, extended flashback. Within that flashback, there are multiple shorter flashbacks. The author uses these to introduce characters; they can be very lengthy. It gives the characters depth, but without the ability to flip back to earlier pages, I’d sometimes get a little lost in the timeline. The complexity of the structure did make the payoff at the end even more impressive.

If you’re afraid the book paints all men as woman-hating sexual predators, no fear! Plenty try to buck the misogyny of their peers, though often seem uncertain how. Some of the most thoughtful characters are the men who are just trying to treat Elizabeth Zott like a fellow human being.

Frustratingly, the book ends with an implication that kind, clear-thinking people can’t believe in God. A priest plays a prominent role in the book. In a book in which the major characters are indifferent to religion or professed atheists, the priest was one of the most relatable. His admission of a loss of faith at the end disappointed me.

Thinking people believe in God. Faith, ritual, and dogma are not simply elements of religion that will disappear if we rid ourselves of religion and theology. They are human experiences that exist even in science. Of course, we all believe our own views are the most enlightened. I know my own views can frustrate readers.

It was a fun, interesting read that I heartily recommend. I’m grateful for the far less sexist environment my wife works in, the general acceptance of me staying home with the kids, and I hope we keep and improve this world for my children’s sakes.