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.