We considered making that one word our entire introduction to this section, but figured we'd clarify just a bit. When was the last time you heard a political debate that didn't bring up either pro-life or pro-choice? Even more than gay marriage (which is also briefly addressed in Unwind) abortion is the hottest ethical question in the United States since Roe v. Wade, and Neal Shusterman's novel addresses it one of the strangest possible ways.
There is no such thing as universal morality. In this world, it is widely seen as okay to unwind a child, so very few people rebel against the Bill of Life.
There is such a thing as universal morality, and it is never okay to murder a child, not even in this world, which is why our main characters rebel.
Elvis Presley sang, "Don't be cruel, to a heart that's true." But what if that true, healthy heart could be donated to someone else? In the world of Unwind, society doesn't seem to have a problem having its teenagers unwound has long as their organs get donated to someone else. But this doesn't change the fact that families are betraying their children almost from the moment they're born, either passing them to another family's doorstep or intending to have them unwound as soon as possible. It's a cruel, cruel world.
The Bill of Life encourages betrayal because no parent (the tithing families excepted) wants to tell their child that they're being unwound.
The Storking initiative encourages betrayal, both from mothers abandoning their babies and those who have been "storked" trying to pass off the child to another family.
Would your kidney revolt against you if it came from your husband's mistress? If you had a uterus transplanted from your own mother, does that mean you'd give birth to your sister? There are all sorts of weird organ transplant stories (seriously—you can Google it), and we can only imagine what new stories might exist in the world of Unwind. In this world, they insist that you remain "alive" through your organs, which makes anyone about to be unwound ponder what exactly it means to be alive.
Connor and friends ponder philosophical questions about life and existence the closer they get to the point where their own lives may end.
It's possible that there is no scientific evidence of people remaining "alive" after being unwound, and they just tell people that to make them feel better about having their children unwound.
You know the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, the one that begins "We the People"? It promises to "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves." No document is perfect (the Constitution should promise hot coffee and free donuts to all), hence the Bill of Rights, a.k.a. the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
In Unwind, we're introduced to the Bill of Life, a new set of laws that seems to dismantle everything the Constitution set out to achieve. Under the Bill of life, there is injustice, chaos, turmoil, and a severe lack of liberty. And it doesn't guarantee donuts, either.
The government tries to regulate morality with its Bill of Life, but there's no way for a law to dictate what is right and what is wrong.
The laws in Unwind exist to take away rights and protections from people who need it most.
If "liar, liar pants on fire" were true (it's not—it's a lie), in the world of Unwind we'd have a ton of people running around in their underwear. The Bill of Life might as well be called the Bill of Lies. There are so many liars as a result of these laws—parents lying to children, saying they won't be unwound; children lying to parents and every adult they encounter, running away from home and looking for freedom. In other words, pretty much everyone is lying to everyone to save themselves in this book. It's a wonder the world doesn't burst into flames.
Connor and Risa have been lied to and deceived from a very young age, so lying and deceiving comes easily to them.
Lev has a harder time lying initially because his parents have always been completely honest with him.
Lots of people encounter a career fair or talent assessment in high school, something to determine what career might best suit you—teacher, doctor, EMT, mime. But imagine going through the same assessment to see which parts of you might best suit others. We don't mean that your hands might be talented enough to play concerts for hundreds, but that your hands—when removed from your body—might help a piano player perform her opus. That's the type of identity crisis many teens face in Unwind, a world where they're not seen as a whole, but merely a sum of parts.
Being in a state home benefited Risa in one way: It allowed her to discover a passion. Connor, by contrast, is merely known as a troublemaker to his parents.
Lev has the biggest identity crisis of our three protagonists. He has the clearest idea of who he wants to be at the beginning of the book, and he has to experience his whole belief system—and his identity as a result—crumbling, and then try to rebuild it.
The average teenager makes pretty small sacrifices in the grand scheme of things. Unless you're being forced to participate in the Hunger Games, you may have had to go without a new iPhone or do homework instead of going out with friends.
In Unwind, like most young adult novels, the situation is a little more serious. It's literally life and death, and our protagonists either have to make huge sacrifices for freedom or prepare to sacrifice their own lives for what they think is the greater good. Sacrificing video game time to work a part-time job suddenly doesn't seem that bad.
Risa isn't used to making sacrifices because as an orphan, she's never had anything to sacrifice.
The children who are told they'll be unwound at a young age come to see it as a noble sacrifice, as if they're giving up something for the benefit of everyone else. And in a way, they are.
The pro-life, pro-choice abortion debate is often divided down religious lines, with many people who consider themselves devoutly religious being pro-life, and others being pro-choice. Because of this, it comes as no surprise that religion plays a major role in Unwind. Strangely, the parties almost seem to have reversed, though: In this world, it's the religious who willfully give up their children in a process known as human tithing. Which isn't to say that they're the only ones who unwind their children, though their beliefs make their decision a bit more palatable.
The fanatically religious characters put God before life, and so for them, life is expendable.
Those who do not have faith believe that life is everything and there is no afterlife, which is one reason they are so scared of being unwound.