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 escape 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 Unwholy, has been announced for 2012.

Has a Character Sheet.


Tropes used in Unwind include:
  • 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.
    • 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"
  • 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.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Lev. Oh, so very much. As in: becomes a Clapper, i.e. suicide bomber.
  • Bittersweet Ending/Earn Your Happy Ending: Oh so much.
  • Blatant Lies: "Nothing to worry about." As one is being methodically dismembered.
  • Body Horror
  • Break the Cutie: What led to the trope above, ohsoverymuch. 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.
  • Door Step 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
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Handicapped people are excuse from being unwound since they’re most often become recipients of unwound cases.
    • Loophole Abuse: Risa ends up paralyzes from an explosion by the Clappers; as a result, she refuses to be cured of her paralysis to save her life. A nurse also helps Connor by giving part of Roland’s eye and arm after he lost his. She’s also makes Connor appear older since those older 18 years are considered adults… too old to be unwound.
  • 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.
  • 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: Storked means having a baby left on your doorstep, kicking-AWOL means running away, Umber is the new word for African-American, and Sienna is the new word for Caucasian.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Rival: Roland to Connor.
  • 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.
  • Take a Third Option: Lev invokes this.
  • True Companions: Connor, Risa, and Lev.
  • 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.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Ariana.
  • Walking Transplant: The Unwinds.
  • We Will Use Wiki Words in the Future: State group homes are called StaHo.
  • 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."