Author: Neal Shusterman
Release Date: August 28th, 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Genre(s): YA Dystopia
*2nd book of a series*
Thanks to Connor, Lev, and Risa—and their high-profile revolt at Happy Jack Harvest Camp—people can no longer turn a blind eye to unwinding. Ridding society of troublesome teens while simltaneously providing much-needed tissues for transplant might be convenient, but its morality has finally been brought into question. However, unwinding has become big business, and there are powerful political and corporate interests that want to see it not only continue, but also expand to the unwinding of prisoners and the impoverished.
Cam is a product of unwinding; made entirely out of the parts of other unwinds, he is a teen who does not technically exist. A futuristic Frankenstein, Cam struggles with a search for identity and meaning and wonders if a rewound being can have a soul. And when the actions of a sadistic bounty hunter cause Cam’s fate to become inextricably bound with the fates of Connor, Risa, and Lev, he’ll have to question humanity itself.
Rife with action and suspense, this riveting companion to the perennially popular Unwind challenges assumptions about where life begins and ends—and what it means to live.
Ok, after calming down quite a bit and performing a therapy method provided by other reader friends, I revised my original 5 stars to 3.5 stars. I’ll explain why later.
WARNING-Unhidden MAJOR spoilers, and it’s really, really long.
Ready? Here we go:
UnWholly is a direct sequel to UnWind, picking up roughly a year or so after the original events. As previous readers know, most, if not all, the characters in Unwind have gone through a drastic change in personality and character, so Lev’s, um, transformation shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. I absolutely loved this book, but there were a couple things I just couldn’t glaze over, as a reviewer, no matter how much bias I automatically have with anything Shusterman.
Here’s a brief summary of the bad and good things, in case you just wanted a quick pros and cons:
Bad things:The diversion from the plot, The skimping on development then plowing the reader in the face, Risa’s almost romance with Cam, Lev’s almost romance with Miracolina, Miracolina, Cam, Lack of Risa, Lev, and Connor, Snarkey- sorry Starkey, Conner’s 180, Cliffhangers within story
Good things:Deep writing and subtle hints; Great themes on forgiveness, morality, playing God, and especially perspective; Able to stomp your gut for every single character; Cliffhangers within story
Let’s start with the infamous diversion from the plot (at least infamous within my book club). Instead of going with the idea that the war and the Unwind accord was all for the sole purpose of prolife/prochoice, we are introduced to a brand new idea that the Unwind was signed because the government was afraid of teenagers getting power. Yes, teenagers. Um… ok
I liked how it emphasized the power of adolescents and all, but it really made the first book take a back seat- and all the struggles and meanings and emotions in that first book were deflated because of UnWholly’s new plot direction. It makes the power that was packed in that abortion theme just flop and nick your wrist. I wish it wasn’t connected to the themes of the first book- or better yet not connected to Unwind at all. However, I won’t deny that the plot detour works- it just seems a little inappropriate considering all that Lev, Conner, and Risa did because of the war between pro-life and pro-choice. Maybe Shusterman will really use that idea of the Terror Generation to highlight the prolife/prochoice thing somehow in the final book.
The ending, with the revelation of Janson Reignschild, was also a bit too good to be true and seemed a little rushed. I didn’t like at all how instantly they were able to make connections, and how a total stranger just happens to help them escape. The stranger helping them was a sweet moment, and shows the goodness of humankind and all that, but again seemed a little too convenient.
Skimping of the development and plowing the person in the face with pretty writing:Ok, so I loved it in the beginning because it gave me a straightforward reason for the character’s actions (most notably Risa’s revelation about Cam and Lev’s self-revelation), and I like straightforwardness- to a point. The first few times, yea I was ok with it because I needed to get a feel for where the author was going with things. But when this happens again and again, it gets annoying and feels like a brick wall of ‘whys’ (this happened because… remember that old sentence from high school essays?) just hit you.
Miracolina:She annoyed me. So. Much. Because of her I wanted to chuck the book at the wall several times. She was whiny and bratty, and frankly wasn't much of a character beyond that. I was holding out for some development- maybe a sudden change in heart or something, but alas, nothing was to be done. Her forgiveness of Lev, no doubt, was important and deep, but I found myself wishing it hadn’t been her who had forgiven him; I didn’t want to have a reason to accept her as a necessary part of the story.
Cam: He was the one I was the most let down by. Not only because of his weird possessiveness, but because of his lack of oomph. I expected him to be sort of the center this whole book revolved around (after all, the entire cover is devoted to him!), but he wasn’t, and even more regretfully Cam wasn’t really important. There were only a few scenes that even touched on this issue of morality of playing God, and even those scenes seem to be packed with too much stuff (remember the skimping and plowing?).
Risa’s almost romance with Cam:Ok this was just awkward. She hates him because he’s everything she is fighting against, knows he’s really possessive, but ends up kissing him- AND she’s in love with Conner. Um what the fruit? (Ok, I know she realized it wasn’t his fault and all, and yea it was obvious that she didn’t mean her lovey-dovey actions, but still. It was awkward. )They had absolutely no chemistry, and the way Cam kept thinking of her as something he could possess and make her love him was creepy. (I guess that was the point, but there was this weird last scene where he said he’s going to tear down the Proactive Citizenery. Yay, right? But- the big BUT- he thought right after, “And then she will have no choice but to love him.” Again, maybe that was the point, to make him seem creepy; however, there were several scenes before showing his ‘humanness’ and how he was becoming more compassionate- like the part about his tears, and how he felt they were his own... )I’m glad that’s (sort of) over, because one thing I adored about Unwind was that there was no focus on the romance.
Lev’s almost romance with Miracolina:WHAT. THE. FRUIT? So, their ‘romance’ wasn’t blunt or directly stated, but there were a few hints that pointed toward it. Thank God that never developed(and I hope it doesn’t) because a) Lev’s too good for her, b) it felt really, really forced- like the author thought every character needed a lover, boyfriend/girlfriend, whatever. I have no clue why Lev was attracted to this girl.
Lack of Risa, Lev, and Connor:Or rather a lack of unity. This was really just a personal thing. I would have liked to see the Dynamic Trio, with all their aww moments, back together and ready to kick some Unwinding butts. But sadly, this was not the case.
Starkey: He. Was. Annoying. Seriously. I saw no purpose in him, but I kept thinking something big was going to happen because of him or with him, in classic Neal Shusterman style (in Unwind, every character the author gave a point of view had a major role, even if that character was really random or minor. It was awesome, it was needed, and it worked- 3 of my favorite things). So, because of this naive hope, I held out on my judgment of Snarkey. I should’ve unleashed all my fury as I read the book because I just wasted several great moments to blast him out of the Salton Sea. He reminded me of Roland- only because they both wanted power. Roland, though, I wasn’t annoyed with him (he had a huge purpose)- just hated him with a passionate fury and even someone I sorta kinda maybe felt sorry for at the end(that unwinding scene… *shudders*). He was fun to hate; hating characters is fun- being annoyed by them is not. Snarkey was a really big fat jerk, who had no purpose, and had tried to redeem himself in the end only to turn into a hypocrite.
Connor’s naivety/ 180: Where on earth did this come from?! What happened to the hotheaded turned intelligent guy who kicked butt even before the person realized their butt had been kicked?? How could he fall for Risa’s sudden turn to the dark side after all they’ve been through??! And why on earth does he trust SNARKEY??! And, to make things worse, they explain everything away at the end, blaming Conner’s jaded mind. Um ok….
Cliffhangers: Shusterman really has a way with cliffhangers within stories. I wanted to wrangle his neck one moment and beg him to stop doing this to us (esp. at the scene where Lev was shot!!), and the next I wanted to give him and his editor a 10 page thank you letter for including those cliffhangers. They kept me on my toes, and I wanted to keep reading because I was constantly dying to find out what the heck just happened or is going to happen. It was refreshing for a cliffhanger (or in this case cliffhangers) actually pack a ton of power behind the punch- instead of weakly fizzling out. (The Selection, anyone?)
Emotions:Shusterman is not just a master at cliffhangers; he is also the father of playing with peoples’ emotions. No one could twist my (recovering) heart into a cardiac arrest for Hayden’s sacrifice(? Last stand?) and Tad and Trace’s death. I hardly knew Trace and Tad, yet when they died, a part of me died too. And that scene with Hayden and the ComBot crew in the plane? Gosh, the strength that radiated from these teenagers was so powerful. This scene makes you really question how far you would go for what you believe in.
Themes: This book is chock full of them. Some were obvious; some will slam you in the back hours after you’re done reading. Themes about life/death (e.g. How do we define life and death? What happens to your soul when your divided? etc) were briefly touched; even though those questions were still in the overall backdrop of the story, I felt they were more emphasized in Unwind. In UnWholly, I felt the most recurring theme here was perspective and playing God.
Conclusion:I really liked Unwind as a standalone, even though I was thrilled (in the beginning) for the sequel. Unwind left me feeling complete, and even though the ending of it was nostalgic, I felt it was perfect because it was not- it ended with a hope that things could get better no matter how grim it was, but didn’t fix those problems, and I was fine with that. Life isn't perfect. And plus, I’m a sucker for those endings. This book, the ending was a little too perfect, and, well, seemed to end the story- even though we all know there’s going to be a third book. So it gave the ending a weird taste of anticipation, but at the same time a brief wave of “Um it’s over? Uh not forever right? I thought there was more, but you make it seem like there’s not going to be more? Hello?”
Still, even with all the bad points, this book merited a 3.5 because as a reader, I have to admit that this was a good story (even if it’s totally irrelevant to the original book and a tad bit too neat at the end), I really did care about the majority of characters, and the writing was powerful. The reviewer side of my brain… well, let’s just say it wouldn’t shut up throughout the entire book.
(And despite it all, I am nervously- with some excitement ;)-waiting for that finale.)
Thanks for reading:)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5