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Abortion Politics in #YALit: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

They say that the abortion wars could not get worse. I beg to counter this statement, given my recent read of Neal Shusterman’s Unwind. The book takes place in the dystopian future. The second Civil War in the United States is the Abortion Wars between the Life Army and the Choice Brigade (the third group is the US military). While society seems fine—things are amiss. Abortion is now illegal, but parents or guardians can choose to have their kids (13-17) unwound. Yes, that’s right, the teens’ bodies are donated to society, so that s/he lives on—it’s not about death. Right. It ends up that teenagers see how ridiculous the law is. There are several references or allusions to how organ donation has become big business due to the availability of healthy organs. There are now suddenly lots of young healthy body parts available—part of the Bill of Life is that 99% of the body parts are reclaimed.

Are three main protagonists are Connor, Risa and Levi—each are scheduled for unwinding. Connor and Risa for bad behaviour or not living up to their guardian’s expectation and Levi is a tithe. Yes, some families tithe a child to society. He was a tithe—that’s right, some parents would have a child to tithe back to society. The child and then teen knows that s/he is going to be donated for parts. Of course, this sounds more crass, as usually the family’s are more religious and the tithe is looked upon more favourably than the “hooligans” who are going to be “unwound.”

The Bill of Life is not about life and respecting life. Instead it’s a means of social control over children or teens. If you act bad—you will be punished and be unwound (killed). However, the process of unwinding is read by society as if it is about life—you will continue “your” life in someone else’s body. The teens see through this veneer of bullshit and know that ultimately it really is the end of their lives.

When Connor and Risa are separated from Levi, things happen to Levi that change him. We never really find out, though. And, may I suggest here is where a good second volume might go—look into the story from Levi’s point of view. When they meet up again, Levi has changed, as he is not the wide-eyed weakling from earlier in the book. Shusterman does not let us know what happened to Levi.

Another interesting sub-plot is “storking.” This is when a mother or father can place their unwanted baby on someone else’s porch. The family who opens the door must know take responsibility for the baby—it’s the law. However, we find out from Connor that things don’t always work smoothly. His family “restorked” a baby and the baby was returned to their porch a few weeks later. But, at this time the baby was dying. The irony was that the entire neighbourhood showed up at the baby’s funeral, even though no one wanted to take care of the baby via the multiple storking. Again, we have another example that goes against the so-called sanctity of life. This reminds me of the Anti-Life factions support of pregnant teens and women; yet the lack of support for social programs later.

It’s the feminist political scientist in me who wants more overt politics and information about the Abortion Wars. And, I also wanted more information about the Bill of Life, which ended the Abortion War. Some more information about the Bill of Life  is shared more during the latter part of the book, when the Admiral tells Connor that neither side of the Civil War blinked and the bill was passed.

I want the book to be part one of a series. I ate this book up and admit my biases and subsequent want for more answers in the pages or more books to follow. This book is worth reading and then suggesting to others as it will haunt you as you ruminate about the plot. The book was actually a referral from my teenager. She was one third into the book and told me, “You have to read this book.” The other great thing that this book caused—an honest discussion about abortion politics.  Shusterman does not seem to lean one way politically with the abortion issue. The book is provocative and will leave you thinking about the issues.

7 thoughts on “Abortion Politics in #YALit: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

    • Dear Jonny: Where to begin?! The entire premise of the book is of a dystopian society in which teenagers can be retroactively aborted and they aren’t really “killed” as they live on in other people via their organs.

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