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Literature: Unwind

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.

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

A movie deal has been made with Constantin Films.

Has a Character Sheet that needs some Wiki Magic.


Contains examples of:

  • AB Negative: Roland's got it. A shortage of AB- blood is one of the reasons he was given for his quick unwinding.
  • 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"
  • Author Vocabulary Calendar: Neal Shusterman really likes the term 'boeuf'.
  • Beast and Beauty: Cam and Risa.
  • 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.
  • Betty and Veronica: In terms of personality Cam and Connor fit this for Risa, though Connor and Risa are the Official Couple and Cam has elements of the Veronica and at times towards a Betty and Veronica Switch given his slight Yandere tendencies.
  • 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 the Cutie: What led to the trope above. Overlaps nastily with Corrupt the Cutie.
  • Church Militant: Many of the parents who give up their children as "tithes" believe the Bible told them to do it.
  • Darker and Edgier
  • Deadly Euphemism: Unwinding is really having every single body part taken away and used as transplants
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Unwinding is a high price to pay for being a "difficult" teenager.
  • 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.
  • Dystopia: Though one that feels like it still looks and works much like modern day.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 "Beouf" 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.
  • Gollum Made Me Do It: Transplanting part of one person's brain into another person can have peculiar effects.
  • Goth: Vincent and Mai.
  • Human Sacrifice: All the "tithes", in a way.
  • 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.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Connor.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Meaningful Name: Wards of the state, such as Risa, are given the last name of "Ward."
  • Mood Whiplash
  • Official Couple: Connor and Risa.
  • Nothing Personal: Risa is consigned to unwinding because of budget cuts at the state children's home where she lives.
  • Offing the Offspring
  • Organ Theft: Only legal. Doesn't stop the formation of gangs of parts pirates in UnWholly.
  • 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.)
  • 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 to Connor. Later on, Cam to Connor as well.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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 even lets Trace die.
  • Take a Third Option: Lev invokes this.
  • 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.
  • The Rez: In Un Souled, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?"
  • 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."
  • 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.

The UnidentifiedScience Fiction LiteratureUplift
TerminatorFilms of the 2010sAngry Birds
UnravelingYoung Adult LiteratureUrn Burial
Unseen AcademicalsLiterature of the 2000sUp in the Air

alternative title(s): Unwind
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