Study Guide

Unwind Introduction

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Unwind Introduction

You can't turn on the TV without seeing a politician arguing about something they know nothing about. Everything from medicine to marriage is up for debate, and every one of these debates ends up with people divided down the middle, into pro-this or anti-that camps. Sometimes the arguments get so heated we're surprised a war doesn't break out. This actually happens in Unwind, when the Second Civil War breaks out, new laws are drafted, and people literally get divided down the middle.

The officials in Unwind, who are maybe even more incompetent than real-life Congresspersons, take their governing style from Missy Elliott songs. They've made a law saying it's okay to put your thang down, flip it, and reverse it, but their execution of this law, which they call the Bill of Life, is sloppier than the sloppiest sloppy joe.There's no way to create legislation that would satisfy everyone, and yet they try. The futility of it is almost enough to make you have sympathy for these blowhards. Emphasis on the almost.

See, Unwind is the story of three teens—Connor, Risa, and Lev—who for some reason or another, are due to be unwound, which is basically a weird, sci-fi retroactive abortion. Yes, you read that right. In this world, all pre-birth abortions are illegal, but a child can be "unwound" between the ages of 13 and 18 for any reason. What does it mean to be unwound? Well, it means that the teen's body and brain are dismantled and preserved as an organ transplant for someone else. It's like recycling, but with people.

Neal Shusterman published Unwind in 2007. Since then, there's been no going back. The book stood alone for five years, before being followed up by UnWholly (2012), UnSouled (2013), and UnDivided (2014), as well as a digital short, UnStrung (2012), all of which make up the Unwind Dystology. No, we can't define dystology, but it doesn't sound pretty.

Shusterman is the author of more than two dozen novels, most for young adults, so he's no stranger to Unwind's difficult themes of adoption, identity, and even race and religion. Unwind even received one of the United States' highest honors—being banned or challenged in 2009-2010. Shusterman's book raises more questions about the dicey issues it tackles than it offers up answers, so get ready for an argument or two. So grab a copy of Unwind and enter the debate…before you get unwound.

What is Unwind About and Why Should I Care?

We can't think of a book that is more explicitly political than Unwind. (Its alternate title—Hey Guys, Let's Talk About Abortion!—was deemed too long to fit on the spine of the book.) The premise is absurd, but it makes you wonder if there could ever be a logical decision that would end this contentious debate. Neal Shusterman packs the book with questions about abortion, identity, religion, race, adoption, gay marriage, and littering, so you will never run out of things to argue about, nor will you find two people with the exact same opinions about everything in this book.

What makes Unwind quite contrary (in a way that Mary Mary never was) is its lack of answers. While the book is firmly anti-Unwinding, that answers no real-life questions because unwinding doesn't exist, won't exist, and could never possibly exist. But for all those other real life debates, the ones that affect our lives every single day, there are no answers.

So maybe the biggest question of all is, do any answers actually exist? Looked at this way, Shusterman's book isn't political at all; it transcends petty arguments of politics and gets into a bigger realm of discussion, one that doesn't depend on sound bites and smear campaigns. So read Unwind, start an argument, look for answers, and just be glad you don't have to worry about being unwound.

Unwind Resources


The Storyman Can
If we know anything from Neal Shusterman's URL, it's that he tells stories. And if we know anything about his website, it's that you can find all sorts of info about the author and his work by visiting it.

Articles and Interviews

Patterns on Paper
Shusterman discusses similarities and differences between his book and the YA series to end all YA series—The Hunger Games.

Solomon's Key
One reviewer compares the concept of unwinding to Solomon's choice of cutting a baby in half. How could anyone do that? They're so slippery…

Shusterman's characters are so vivid, they tweet without him knowing about it.

From X-Files to Ex-Child
Unwind time and step into the past for an interview with Shusterman from before Unwind was even published.

Kirkus is all wound up over Unwind, comparing it to classics by Bradbury and Orwell.


We're not sure if they have YouTube in the future Unwind takes place in, but Shusterman uses it now while he still can.

No, Shusterman isn't a sociopath—he's talking about a path to what he calls the "sociological future" of Unwind.


You Can't UnHear it
Unwind your earbud cords and sample the Unwind audio book from Audible.

Leave No Book UnRead
Need a reading recommendation after Unwind? Let's find out what Neal Shusterman is reading.


Vanilla Sky
Here's Akron's skyline. Would you run away from there?

Air Lines
Alex MacLean's "Air Lines" aerial art project gives us a good idea of what the Graveyard might look like.

Some odd ducks try to sell their souls on eBay. The proof is in this picture.

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