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Literature / Unwind

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A YA novel by Neal Shusterman. A long time before the book started, there was a war called the Heartland War between the pro-life and pro-choice sides. The government compromised by making abortion illegal as a baby, but from the ages of 13-18, children can be "unwound", which is when all their body parts are donated to other people. Connor, a troublemaker from Akron, Ohio, is going to be unwound. He decides to run away and hitches a ride with a truck driver. His parents find him and he escapes the "juvey cops", or police who specialize in catching runaway "unwinds," and runs into Risa and Lev. Risa has been consigned to unwinding because, at a State Home, or StaHo, her piano skills were not good enough and they needed to cut costs. Lev is a "tithe" -the 10th child of a rich, religious family who gives 10 percent of everything. Brought together by chance, and kept together by desperation, these three unlikely companions make a harrowing cross-country journey, knowing their lives hang in the balance. If they can survive until their eighteenth birthday, they can't be harmed — but when every piece of them, from their hands to their hearts, are wanted by a world gone mad, eighteen seems far, far away.

A sequel, called UnWholly, was released on August 28, 2012. A third novel, UnSouled, was released in 2013. The conclusion to the series, UnDivided, was released in 2014.

An novella, called UnStrung has also been released as an e-book. It tells the story about how Lev became a clapper.

Constantin Films has the rights to the movie, with production slated to start in April 2016.

Has a Character Sheet that needs some Wiki Magic.


Contains examples of:

  • 555: The Tyler Walker Foundation.
  • AB Negative: Roland's got it. A shortage of AB- blood is one of the reasons he was given for his quick unwinding.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Apparently Connor once hallucinated Roland’s tattoo telling him to “Spank the monkey with your own damn hand.”
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: The Graveyard in UnWholly.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • It's quite possible, though never fully confirmed, that you're still alive after being unwound. This is, in fact, the entire point.
    • If not all Unwinds, then certainly Tyler, the Unwind who is about 1/8 of CyFi's brain, though that's an atypical case. Still, Tyler is definitely conscious to a degree, and what's worse, doesn't even know he's been unwound. Not only that, but CyFi did not receive a part of Tyler's brain that uses words, and is trapped, unable to think using words.
    • The process of unwinding itself is a lot like this. The process is finally shared with the reader from Roland's point of view as he's being unwound. The person feels no pain, but is fully conscious for the entire procedure. Roland's thoughts get progressively simpler until all that's left is an ellipsis.
  • Arc Words: "Somebody else's problem"
  • Attempted Rape
    • A parts pirate has unsavory intentions for Risa beyond selling her body parts. And then she gets him to impale himself on a pitchfork.
    • She also takes on three would-be rapists in an alley in Omaha. Ouch.
  • Author Vocabulary Calendar: Neal Shusterman really likes the term 'boeuf'.
  • Beast and Beauty: Cam and Risa. Although he's actually quite attractive, and once people get used to the idea of him many cease to see him as monstrous.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: Subverted. At first the novel seems it's going in that direction, but Lev's former pastor, Dan, is much less dogmatic than the rest.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed
  • Betty and Veronica: Cam and Connor for Risa. Going by personality, hot-tempered ex-delinquent Connor is the Veronica and charming, loyal Cam is the Betty. However, Connor is also a Humble Hero who's known Risa longer and has much more history with her, while Cam is a constructed human being (frequently exotified by Risa and others) with some Yandere tendencies.
    “You have visitors,” Sonia tells her.
    The look on [Risa's] face is too guarded to be hopeful. “What sort of visitors?”
    Sonia smiles wickedly. “The angel and the devil on your shoulders, Risa. I hope you’re wise enough to know which is which.”
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Lev. Oh my lord, Lev. By the end of the first book, he's eventually driven to become a Clapper, i.e. suicide bomber.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family: Roland's family. His sister was "never right again" after a babysitter shook her too hard, his stepfather beat up his mother, and his mother sent him to be unwound after he beat up his stepfather.
  • Bittersweet Ending / Earn Your Happy Ending
  • Black Comedy: "He was not a very happy Jack." Accompanied by a literal Rim Shot!
  • Blatant Lies: "Nothing to worry about." As one is being methodically dismembered.
  • Body Horror
  • Break Her Heart to Save Her: Connor's coldness toward Risa in UnWholly and UnSouled stems first from his disgust at his transplant and fear he'll lose control of Roland's arm and later because he doesn't want her tagging along for his dangerous lifestyle when she's found refuge elsewhere.
  • Break the Cutie: What led to the trope above. Overlaps nastily with Corrupt the Cutie.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield
    • Lev takes tranq bullets meant for Connor, letting them both escape.
    • Similarly, Starkey uses Ashley to block tranq bullets during the Graveyard raid.
  • Character Name Alias: A pair of clappers introduce themselves as Sid and Nancy.
  • Church Militant: Many of the parents who give up their children as "tithes" believe the Bible told them to do it.
  • Confessional: Cam goes to Confession in UnSouled, but it's less for absolution and more to ask the priest whether or not he's a person.
  • Create Your Own Villain
    • The juvie cop that Connor tranqs with his own gun loses his job and his wife and becomes an object of national ridicule, causing him to become a parts pirate and blame Connor for ruining his life. Of course, juvie cops aren't exactly heroes to begin with...
    • Similarly, Argent was of questionable moral standing, but it's his run-in with Connor that gives him the nudge he needs to be a full-fledged villain.
  • Cruel Mercy: The Tashi'ne family decides not to execute Fretwell, instead locking him in a blank cell without human contact, being given only enough bread and water, with nothing but a rope for the rest of his life.
  • Darker and Edgier: While Unwind is already pretty dark and edgy, UnWholly keeps the stomach-turning premise and adds more explicitly sexual content, cursing, and a brand-new illegal organ trade. And then in UnSouled, Connor is forced to smoke pot and Risa calmly stabs a guy with a pitchfork (granted, it was in self-defense, but it's still jarring).
  • Deadly Euphemism: Unwinding is really having every single body part taken away and used as transplants
  • Deprogram: The business of the Cavenaugh mansion is helping to retrain tithes so that they no longer want to be unwound.
  • Disney Death: Connor in Undivided.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Unwinding is a high price to pay for being a "difficult" teenager.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Starkey during the Graveyard raid, due to a combination of morphine and adrenaline.
  • Divorce Assets Conflict: Hayden's parents, who, after several years of courtroom throwdowns, were still fighting over who should get what, including Hayden, before deciding to have him unwound instead. See If I Can't Have You below.
  • Doorstop Baby: Since birth control and abortion are illegal, young mothers often drop their babies on doorsteps hoping someone finds them. It is called being "storked". Connor relates an anecdote about a storked baby who kept getting storked from one house to another until it died of exposure.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Due to most of the cast being homeless children slated by their own families to be stripped down for organs.
  • Dystopia: Though one that feels like it still looks and works much like modern day.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: A few police vehicles catch fire or explode during the raid in UnWholly.
  • Even Evil Has Standards
    • While the government during the unwinding process often those who runaways from their fate, if selected to be unwind, but those who are handicapped regardless of age, even they were once meant to be unwind, are spared. Risa takes advantage of this after the explosion at the graveyard paralyzes her. Connor is also spared after the same explosion costs him an arm and eye, which a nurse replaces with Roland's and is given a fake ID to further this.
    • Apparently even parts pirates refuse to unwind mentally disabled people.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Divan and the Dah Zey.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: Connor's larger-than-life legend leaves people a little underwhelmed when they realize the Akron AWOL is just a kid, in spite of everything he's done.
  • Face Death with Dignity: How Connor decides to approach his unwinding.
  • Fantastic Prejudice: Storks and wards are both subjected to significant classism, even at the Graveyard.
  • Feghoot: The urban legend of Humphrey Dunfee, whose father was one of the most prominent advocates of unwinding. Said father was all but forced to unwind Humphrey, but completely snapped afterwards, trying to track down every person who received an organ from Humphrey. Unfortunately for him, "All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humphrey back together again." The story isn't completely false, and in the end, all the recipients are gathered for a reunion of sorts.
  • Flashback: The Rheinschild's flashbacks provide one of the POVs for UnSouled.
  • Folk Hero: Generally deconstructed. Connor, Risa, and Starkey all reach this status throughout the course of the series, but usually for things they didn't do, or for their morally questionable actions.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: UnSouled follows Lev and Connor's journey to find Sonia, Risa's life on the run, Cam working against Proactive Citizenry, Nelson and Argent's hunt for Connor, Starkey and the Stork Club, and the Rheinschilds' lives after the passage of the Unwind Accord.
  • The Fundamentalist: all the (religious) parents who believe in tithing their children.
    • Straw Affiliation: No real fundamentalists actually believe in tithing children, at least not as human sacrifices. Sending them to live with a monastery, perhaps, but not human sacrifice.
  • Future Slang: Lots.
    • A "Boeuf" is a young person looking for military service.
    • Storked means having a baby left on your doorstep.
    • Kicking-AWOL means running away in order to escape Unwinding.
    • "ChanceFolk" is the politically correct term for a Native American. Slot Monger is the politically incorrect term.
    • "Umber" is the new word for African-Americans while "Sienna" is the new word for Caucasians.
  • Gilded Cage: Proactive Citizenry holds Cam and Risa captive in incredible luxury and privilege.
  • Gilligan Cut: At the end of a chapter, Connor denies that he's a hero and is told that 'a true hero never believes he is one'. The next chapter begins.
    Mason Starkey knows he is a hero.
  • Gollum Made Me Do It: Transplanting part of one person's brain into another person can have peculiar effects.
  • Go Look at the Distraction: Bambi tells a guard to go get her a drink. He points out that their water store is in the room with him. She tells him to go get her some sushi. He just acts confused. She gives up and tells him to get the hell out.
  • Groin Attack
    “The Akron AWOL in my storm cellar. Can’t be an accident. It was fated, man! Fated!”
    “You kicked me in the nuts. That wasn’t fate; it was your foot.”
  • Heroic Sacrifice
    • Connor and the Holy of Whollies plan one so that the others can make a run for it when the Juvie cops raid the Graveyard.
    • Of the non-lethal kind, Cam allows himself to be taken back into custody at the end of UnSouled so he won't give Risa and Connor away to the authorities.
  • Human Sacrifice: All the "tithes", in a way.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Starkey, immobilized on the Lady Lucrezia, has to beg Connor to kill him.
  • If I Can't Have You: Hayden's parents. They both decided in the middle of their bitter divorce that they would rather have their son unwound than live with the fact that the other had won.
  • Instant Sedation: Tranq bullets knock an opponent out so quickly and effectively that they're called more effective than real bullets.
  • Infant Immortality: Very, very averted.
  • It Will Never Catch On: In a dramatic example, Sonia refuses to believe that parents will be willing to unwind their children, after it's legally extended to all teens in addition to ferals.
  • Killed Off for Real:
    • Roland. And all that "divided state" nonsense aside, you still feel sorry for him as you have to see the whole procedure in graphic detail.
    • Vincent and Mai, who become clappers.
    • In the second book, a clapper kills off Pastor Dan.
    • Trace by the end of UnWholly - he drowns in the Salton Sea after a plane crash.
    • Starkey, by his own request.
    • Nelson, unwound without anesthetic.
  • Known Only by Their Nickname: One of the Unwinds got the nickname "Emby" (short for mouth breather because of his breathing problems). Only the Admiral calls him by his real name, Zachary.
  • Last Kiss: Connor and Risa ebfore he's unwound on the Lady Lucrezia.
  • Life-or-Limb Decision: Downplayed when Starkey has to smash the bones in his hand to escape handcuffs so that he can attempt to seize control of the Graveyard.
  • Light Is Not Good: The harvest camps. Between the Pushing Daisies-esque decor (bright pastel colors on everything, including the surgeons' sunshine yellow scrubs) and the sickening platitudes painted on every wall...it would give even Tim Burton nightmares.
  • Line in the Sand: Connor gives the Holy of Whollies the chance to opt out of acting as a distraction so that the others can escape the Graveyard. It's noted that it's really an empty offer, as no one can take it without seeming cowardly and abandoning their friends.
  • Little "No": Risa refusing to play the organ for Divan as Connor is unwound.
  • Love Before First Sight: Cam's infatuation with Risa begins before he meets her, when he sees a surveillance photo and one of the unwinds whose brain he received recognizes hers.
  • Love Dodecahedron: In the first book, Connor may have had something with Ariana before Risa got into the picture; Roland also vies for her attention, but it's really more to rile Connor up. In UnWholly, Cam develops feelings for Risa as well, but she doesn't return them.
  • Manly Tears: The male heroes cry, which is understandable given the situations that they're often placed in.
  • Meaningful Name: Wards of the state, such as Risa, are given the last name of "Ward."
  • Medical Horror: Obviously.
  • Mercy Kill: Connor strangling Starkey before he can be unwound.
  • Mercy Lead: Nelson gives these to his captures, but only to foster false hope.
  • Moment Killer: Risa does this to Connor several times in Undivided, most egregiously by bringing up Cam while they cuddle.
  • Mood Whiplash
  • Near-Rape Experience: Roland begins to force himself on Risa before Connor interrupts. It's not clear whether he would have gone through with it if or if it was just a bluff to upset Connor, but it's still horrible.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Many of Starkey's stork-rescue operations slip into this due to his Revenge Before Reason mindset.
  • No Name Given: Many of the single-section POV characters.
  • Nothing Personal: Risa is consigned to unwinding because of budget cuts at the state children's home where she lives.
  • Official Couple: Connor and Risa.
  • Offing the Offspring
  • Oh Crap!: Many times over. A couple of examples are Lev and Miracolina when Nelson pulls a tranq gun on them and Connor when the Whollies change direction to try to reach the escape jet.
  • Opt Out: Lev deciding to stay with the Tashi'ne family instead of going on to Akron.
  • Organ Theft: Only legal, at first. Doesn't stop the formation of gangs of parts pirates in UnWholly.
  • Our Hero Is Dead: Lev getting shot at the Statue of Liberty.
  • Outlaw Couple: Connor and Risa eventually become this, although the crimes they commit are always about doing the right thing even if it's illegal.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Proposition 73 involves legalizing the unwinding of adult criminals.
  • Perp Walk
    • Connor is paraded around Happy Jack when he arrives in order to humiliate him and break the spirits of the kids already there. It galvanizes them instead.
    • Fretwell also gets one when he's brought back to the reservation.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Most of the heroes are intermittently-homeless teenage criminals. But the good kind.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The idea of unwinding itself is an accidental example. It was suggested in an attempt to shock everyone into ending the war — but coincidentally, medical technology was released at about the same time that enabled the use of 100% of a donated body, and the idea was implemented shortly thereafter.
  • Retcon: Fairly minor one: The first book has a mention of Florida StaHo 18. In the second book, an AWOL boy points out that the State Homes in Florida are all named after flowers instead (his was called Magnolia.)
  • Revenge Before Reason: Starkey burns down the house of parents who attempt to have their stroked children unwound, which is what finally prompts the Juvenile Authority to take the Graveyard out.
  • Risking The King: Connor reassures another kid that he'll be fighting right alongside the rest of them. Another boy points out that in chess, you don't put your king on the frontline, but Connor doesn't care.
  • The Rival: Roland, Starkey, and Cam all play this role to Connor in some fashion throughout the series.
  • Sadistic Choice: In Unwholly, Risa is given the choice to publicly endorse unwinding, or see the Graveyard and all the unwinds who live there taken down.
  • Room 101: The room where unwinding happens is almost one of these, save for the fact that everyone knows what goes in the "chop shop."
  • Secret Test of Character: Grace offers to give the printer away for free to see if the company will take advantage of her, thereby testing its integrity and the likelihood that it will bury the technology.
  • Ship Tease: Hayden and Bam in Undivded.
  • Shirtless Scene: Cam engineers a few for Risa's benefit.
  • Shout-Out: Cy-Fi's "Old Umber patois" includes the phrase "I pity the foo'," Catch Phrase of B.A. Barracus from The A-Team. Lampshaded when Lev says that a lot of Cy-Fi's patois probably comes from old TV shows.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!:
    “The difference between me and you, Connor,” Starkey says, still defiant, “is that—”
    “—is that you’re in handcuffs and I’m not. Get him out of here.”
  • Slow Clap: After Lev announces his intention to hunt down the parts pirates that took Wil.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Starkey invokes this in UnWholly.
  • Spiteful Spit: More and more as the series progresses.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: The two clappers in UnSouled.
  • Stepford Smiler: The nurse at the "chop shop." Such smiling eyes, always.
  • Suicide Attack: Clappers, who can blow themselves up at any time. Near the end they try specifically to blow up the operating room at a harvest camp.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Played with in the second book with Starkey, a boy who is being unwound for delinquency (much like Connor). Ultimately subverted, though. He's a much worse troublemaker than Connor ever was, not to mention he's perpetually defiant and even takes to militant action and lets Trace die.
  • Take a Third Option: Lev invokes this.
  • Take That
    There’s a theater on the next street playing a revival of Cats, which mankind will likely have to suffer through for the rest of eternity.
  • Teenage Wasteland: The Graveyard becomes one when Connor takes over for the Admiral. Fear of teenage riots and growing unrest was also a factor in the passing of the Unwind Accord.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Horrifically deconstructed in book two. During the Heartland War, many teens, with their present and future lives potentially ruined beyond repair, took to the streets to protest, and were viciously cut down by cops armed with newly-invented tranq bullets. The media categorized them as "Feral Teens" and this heavy sensationalization is implied to have led to the rushed passage of the Unwind Accords, with the express purpose of eliminating this "Terror Generation," morality be damned.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Starkey knocks up a few of his followers in UnSouled.
  • Terrorists Without a Cause: Some clappers actually pride themselves on this, claiming to serve no cause but chaos.
  • The Big Easy: Argent and Nelson visit in UnSouled.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Connor while running the Graveyard.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Nelson is killed by Argent in Undivided in revenge for his betrayal (and for taking half of Argent's face).
  • Their First Time: Connor and Risa at the end of Undivided, after two years of being cockblocked by everything from their own angst to one of them straight-up dying.
  • The Rez: In UnSouled, Connor, Lev, Grace, and eventually Camus spend most of the book on a "Casino Rez", which has gotten very wealthy over the years and is now practically independent. They hunt for their food and live in luxurious homes that are carved into the walls of a gorge.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Connor being unwound, purchased by the admiral, and rewound.
  • Title Drop
    Do you know what that feels like, Risa? [Cam] wants to ask her. Do you know what it’s like to be un-souled?
  • Together in Death: The Rheinschilds.
  • Toilet Humor: The "pee in a suitcase" sequence in UnWholly.
  • True Companions: Connor, Risa, and Lev.
  • Tuckerization: Whenever Neal Shusterman needs a name for a character, he'll describe the character on his Facebook page and ask his fans "Who wants the character to be named after them?" He'll either take the entire name of a fan, or combine two people's first and last names.
  • Twenty Minutes into the Future: Specifically, after "The Heartland War" broke out over the legalization of abortion. Certain current cultural references are referred to as "pre-war", such as Mr. T and iPods. Biomedical technology seems to have advanced the most, including the eponymous Unwinding technique.
  • Two Guys and a Girl
    • Connor, Risa, Lev
    • Roland, Mai, Hayden.
    • Connor, Lev, Grace
    • Connor, Cam, Grace
  • Unknown Rival: Invoked by Starkey, who intentionally keeps quiet. Connor doesn't realize it until it's too late.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Ariana.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee
    • While Connor and Risa are being chased by an officer.
    • At the end of UnWholly, Connor's plan is well-laid out and heroic. Starkey's is selfish and hidden from the audience. Guess how that plays out...
    • Lev's plan to rescue Connor during the battle with the Juvies also follows this rule.
    • The grandest example is Connor's Thanatos Gambit.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Lev leading Nelson to the Graveyard.
  • Walking Transplant: The Unwinds.
  • We Will Use WikiWords in the Future: State group homes are called StaHo.
  • Wham Ending: Book two, many times over.
  • Wham Line: "Dunfee? Your last name is Dunfee?"
  • What Were You Thinking?: Connor gets this a lot from Risa at first, and later turns it around to shame the mob at the graveyard.
  • Who Needs Enemies?: Starkey working to undermine Connor in UnWholly.
  • Would Be Rude to Say "Death": The state home's lawyer admonishes Risa for being "inflammatory" when she refers to being unwound as "dying." He prefers to describe it as being "alive, just in a divided state."
  • Worthy Opponent: Divan says that he respect Connor quite a bit and would be tempted to let him go...if not for the money he stands to make.
  • You Won't Feel a Thing: There's a sequence where a Walking Transplant on the operating table is notified that he may feel something in his feet, but not to worry. Then, a little later, he's told that he may feel something in his legs. This proceeds far longer than you might expect.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/Unwind