Author: Neal Shusterman
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Number of Pages: 335
Awards: ALA Top Picks for Reluctant Readers, ALA Best Young Adult Book List
Genre/Subgenre: Science fiction/dystopian fiction
Three teens at risk of being Unwound must rely on each other to survive.
It is the not-to-distant future and a procedure called Unwinding, in which children ages 13 to 18 are harvested for their body parts, is legal and widely practiced. Three teenagers – Connor, Risa, and Lev – are each schedule to be Unwound. Connor, who is being Unwound against his will by his parents, runs away and in his attempt to escape causes a highway accident that leads to him meeting Risa and Lev, who are both being transported to Unwinding facilities. Risa also seeks to avoid Unwinding, and she and Connor pair up to increase their chances of survival. Lev, who is being Unwound for religious reasons and supports the practice, is unwillingly dragged along with the two until he attempts to turn them in to the police. Connor and Risa escape to a series of safe houses and eventually find themselves in the Graveyard, a society of runaway Unwinds led by a mysterious man called the Admiral. Meanwhile, Lev meets a boy who has received an organ from an Unwound, which causes him to rethink how he feels about the practice. He too makes his way to the Graveyard, where he becomes involved with an underground organization convinced that the Admiral is not all he seems and that the teenagers should rise up and take over. As a result of a riot, Connor and Risa are taken into custody and sent to an Unwinding facility. Lev turns himself in and is sent to the same facility, but once he is there he and some other Unwinds attempt to blow up the facility and free the Unwinds. His plan works and Connor and Risa are able to return to the Graveyard as leaders, although not without damage – Connor has lost an arm and Risa has become paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the explosion.
This is by far the most disturbing YA novel that I have ever encountered, and I think that is intentional. I think the author wants us to have a strong reaction and to think critically about the questions this novel addresses: what does it mean to be alive? Whose lives are worth protecting? Who are we as a society using or taking for granted? Unwind is quite the thought-provoking read, and I think that it addresses really important questions in a way that is accessible and relatable to YA readers.
Why I Chose the Book:
The reason I chose this book is a simple one: I heard about the concept – a future in which it is legal practice to harvest unwanted teenagers for their body parts – and was absolutely horrified. I immediately wanted the characters to be saved from this terrible fate, and in order to see if that happened I had to read the book.
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Book Talk Ideas
Have a classroom debate on Unwinding as the characters from Unwind. Have students prepare arguments for or against Unwinding as their character.
1. Compare the characters Connor, Risa, and Lev and how they came to be Unwinds. How do their varied life experiences impact their beliefs about Unwinding and about themselves?
2. Discuss the role that urban legends play in the novel, particularly concerning the Unwinding process and the tale of Humphrey Dunphee. How do these legends impact the characters, and what is the impact when the truth about them is revealed?
Goodreads (2014). Unwind by Neal Schusterman. Retrieved from:
Shusterman, N. (2007). Unwind. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Shusterman, Neil [Website] (2014). Unwind Awards and Honors. Retrieved from: