Study Guide

Risa Megan Ward in Unwind

By Neal Schusterman

Risa Megan Ward

Play Us a Song, You're the Piano Girl

Risa is a piano playing orphan, or in other words, a ward of the state. Hence her last name, Ward. Her life is affected by fate so much that it seems like everything that happens to her is out of her control. First she's ordered unwound due to overcrowding in the state homes (StaHos). That's a bad thing. Then her bus crashes, which is a good thing because it allows her to escape.

At that point, Risa's fate becomes intertwined with Connor's. At first this is a disadvantage. As strong and smart and collected as Risa is, Connor is hotheaded and impulsive. But Risa stands her ground—when Connor grabs her, for instance, she snarls, "Touch me again and your arm gets ripped off" (1.7.25) (a bit of foreshadowing here, considering what happens to Connor's arm at the end of the book). And later, she takes care of the baby he takes off a stoop.

Perhaps because Risa doesn't have an identity of her own, she's good at deceiving people. She pretends to be Didi, a teen mom, in order to get food and clothes from people. But during the course of pretending to be a mom, she actually gets attached to the nameless baby. When a nice woman takes the baby to a home, "the moment the baby is out of her arms Risa feels a tremendous sense of relief, but also an indefinable sense of emptiness" (2.20.19). And that's only one of many sad losses in Risa's life.

Call the Medic

When Risa arrives at the Graveyard, she actually likes it. Unlike Connor, who is still looking for trouble at any moment, Risa is happy to have found her home. After all, this is the first place she actually can call home (unlike Connor, who never appreciates the home he has). She learns her piano hands are also adept at fixing wounds when she becomes the camp medic, keeping up an on-again off-again relationship with Connor as she mends injuries.

She's the voice of reason, trying to get Connor to cool his jets and trying to figure out exactly what, if anything, Lev is up to. However, fate intervenes, as it always does with Risa, and this time gets her swept up in an uprising, which leads her to being caught and transferred to Happy Jack Harvest Camp, where she is seriously injured in an explosion.

For Risa, though, this is a silver lining. Paralyzed, she can't be unwound. Also, she's only paralyzed from the waist down, leaving her hands free to play piano, which is her dream. Leave it to Risa to find hope in even the grimmest situation.