Unwind: A Book Review

Book: Unwind (Unwind dystology #1)

Author/Authoress: Neal Shusterman

Unwind (Unwind, #1)

Cover: 4/5

Right away the cover sets the tone for this book. Creepy, disturbing and dark. Just looking at the cover gave me chills. However, for those for you who are worried, the book is not as ghastly as the cover implies. The characters are very human. It’s just the world they’re placed into that is disturbing. One thing I love about the cover: the fingerprint identation. Identity is a major aspect of this book and what better way to represent that then by a fingerprint?

Plot:5/5

The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.

Yes the plot is actually as creepy as it sounds.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman is a novel about a world gone insane (to a frightening degree) in which children between the ages of thirteen and eighteen can be legally signed over by their parents or guardians to be put through a harvest camp so that others can take their organs, tissue and blood. Yes, you heard me. Organ harvestation camps.

In these camps, ‘problematic’ children and tithes (people who are brought up for the express purpose of being donors) have all of their organs harvested (or at least 99.44%) so that they can be reused. To make this world even more screwed up, transplants are pretty common in the world. You have less than stellar vision? No problem, you don’t need to get glasses. Glasses are so pointless when you can just get a new eye. Going bald? Ouch! you better cover that spot up soon. You can always use the lustrous locks of some poor teen.

“I’d rather be partly great than entirely useless.”

This is what a boy about to be unwound says. And it reflects pretty well what society seems to think. Entirely useless children have no real place in it. They are more valuable in parts than as a whole.

So what’s the history behind the organ camps? Well apparently there was something called the Heartland Wars in which people fought over the issue of the legality and morality of abortion. The verdict? Abortion is illegal when the child is a foetus but you can always have all of their organs harvested while they are  between the ages of 13 and 18. How’s that for morality? And if you just can’t wait to get rid of the child, you could always use the ‘storking’ method. People can leave infants on other people’s doorstep and thus legally handing over their responsibilities of the child. And they’ll be forced to take it in. Perfectly legal and moral. As long as you don’t get caught of course. The problem is usually the storked families don’t want the infant anyways.

Anyways, as much as the plot creeps me out, you can see the sheer potential Neal Shusterman has created in this world. And he doesn’t disappoint. This book is crazy good in a creepy sort of way.

Characters: 5/5

The book is told in multiple POV’s. Thus, giving us a good feel for the thoughts and emotions of each character. I’ll write about them in chronological order.

Connor: He’s a troubled teen. Not particularly good but not particularly bad. He’s not vicious, spiteful or difficult. But he has quite a temper, goes looking for trouble and mostly lazy.  But his parents are also lazy and selfish. Bought in by all the unwinding-is-good propaganda, they sign him up to be unwound. And this is where the story starts. Understandably, Connor is not really into the idea. So he runs away in the middle of the night. He’s tracked by a Cop. To get away from him, he uses Levi as a hostage.

Lev is a tithe, a child born and raised to be signed off as an Unwind as soon as he turns thirteen. There’s no polite way to say this. But Lev is … brainwashed. His oldest brother is vehemently against the process, but his deeply religious parents have convinced Lev that being tithed is a great honor that he must follow through to the end. And Lev is not happy that the end will come later rather than sooner.

Disturbed by the chaos of an AWOL Unwound holding a tithe as hostage, Risa makes a plan to escape. She’s a ward of the state whose piano playing skills weren’t enough for her to make the cut. The budget cuts. And so she is signed up to be unwound. Unsurprisingly this doesn’t fit in well with her ambitons.

When these three meet, they make a plan to stay off the radar of the Cops (in the book the cops incharge are called juvenile authorities) who plan to take them to the harvestation camp (Okay, Risa and Connor do.)  Lev, who feels he was deprived of the purpose and honour of giving up his life, gives them up but immediately feels remorseful (frankly, that part really annoyed me). Thankfully, all three of them escape (there wouldn’t be much of a story if they didn’t). Risa and Connor end up in the basement of a safe house and Levi ends up in the company of an interesting kid called CyFi who suffers from something like dual personality because half of his brain was a transplant from another kid.

In the basement of the safe house Risa and Connor end up in the company of several children. One of them is Hayden. His parents divorced but were unable to decide who received custody. In pure spite, each of them signed the papers agreeing to let Hayden be unwound so that the other wouldn’t get custody. Talk about priorities. Another is Raymond. Raymond is a violent, psychopath who attacks Risa in an effort to get to Connor. He’s also a traitor. But even he doesn’t deserve the fate he receives. He’s unwound at Happy Jack Camp (that name is revolting, isn’t it?). That chapter is one of the most disgusting, horrifying scenes I’ve read. Scratch that. It is the most horrifying scene I’ve read. I almost puked. His unwinding takes place with him strapped to a table, conscious and under anaesthesia. The whole time, a nurse talks to him and warns him that he’ll lose ability and feeling in each of his limbs as they get harvested. Definitely not a scene for the faint hearted.

All three main characters grow and change so much in this book. Connor becomes responsible and trustworthy. He starts thinking before he acts (Risa’s influence no doubt). But his rough around the edges personality never truly goes away. Risa is the character who changes the least. She was never naïve, but I think her experience makes her a little jaded. Still she remains clever and full of life throughout the book. Holy Hell! does Lev change a lot? It was heart breaking to see him go from annoying little tithe to angry suicidal bomber to loyal and regretful friend. I predict that Lev’s a character to be watched throughout the series.

Romance:5/5

The romance in this book was like a little sidenote to the whole story. But you should feel assured that it was a good sidenote. The romance between Risa and Connor was sweet and intense but it didn’t take over the entire story like romance tends to do in most dystopian novels. Hello, Divergent or The Hunger Games? The character were willing and able to put the needs and necessities of other Unwinds before their own romance. And thank god each thought of theirs wasn’t nauseatingly sweet thoughts about the other.

Ending: 5/5

On a scale of 1-5 for cliffhangers, I’d put the book at about 2.5. The ending was pretty bitter sweet with each character having lost stuff important to them. <spoiler> Risa loses the use of her legs, Connor loses his arm and it gets replaced by an organ from an Unwind (which is something he feels is morally irreprehensible) and Lev gets put in jail trapped in a suit which doesn’t allow him to move at all. </spoiler>

Plotholes:5/5

This book really makes you think. It’s the type of dystopian book which has quite a few political undertones (and overtones too). I mean, pro-life or pro-choice- that’s quite a difficult decision to make. Maybe that’s why it’s so sensitive.

It speaks about identity and at points it even gets a little spiritual. Like if you are divided into parts and not really dead, would your soul disappear or would it just be spread. After reading this book you’ll practically be forced to deliberate on topics like morality and ethics of organ harvestation and how much control parents/guardians should really have.

Overall Rating: 5/5

It’s rare enough for me to give one book a 5/5 rating but two in a row? The sky must have fallen. But Unwind deserves this rating. Deep, interesting and unique characters, a twisting and new plotline. Plus it really makes you think. I’d recommend this book to everyone over the age of 13 because there is one chapter that is particularly revolting (Raymond’s unwinding). That chapter is not terribly descriptive but it is the stuff of nightmares, so beware.

 

Hate List: A Book Review

People hate. That’s our reality.

Book: Hate List

Author/Authoress: Jennifer Brown

Hate List

Cover: 4/5

It’s different. But I like it. I don’t usually go for covers that have so few shades in them (black grey and one colour- blue) but for some reason I like this cover. I think it may have to do with the fact that the cover is the kind of art the main character Valarie would appreciate. It’s the kind of art that she would draw herself. The cover represents confusion, grief and just a little bit of depression. All three of which are in the book

Plot:5/5

“You may not have pulled the trigger, but you helped cause the tragedy.”

Five months ago, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things she and Nick hated. The list he used to pick his targets.

Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.

The plot is amazing. I’m serious. I have never read anything like this. Maybe part of the reason this book is so good is because of the narrator. Jennifer chose a girl who was close to the shooter and partially responsible (in everyone’s eyes) for the shooting. Not only does this book focus on the tragedy, but it also focuses on the aftermath. After all,  who could be a more compelling narrator than the girl who dated the shooter and inspired him to start the shooting but was completely horrified by the shooting and willing to sacrifice herself to stop it? This book is powerful and thought-provoking. How exactly is guilt doled out and who deserves it? It also deals with major issues like suicidal tendencies, forgiveness and bullying.

Characters:4/5

This book had a really strong set of characters. The setting jumps back and forth between the actual shooting, pre-shooting and the aftermath. Valerie was a good narrator who was able to really bring out the character of her parents, ex and friends through flashbacks. Her guilt is the most overpowering emotion in the novel. Her trust in herself is shaken and she wonders how she didn’t see it coming.

The relationship between Valeries’s parents is strained and their relationship with Valerie is also somewhat strained. Her father, who was kind of an absentee after the divorce, becomes even more distant after the shooting. He blames her for starting the shooting and in the process not only ending several lives but ruining his.

“We drove on in silence, Dad shaking his head in disgust every few minutes. I stared at him, wondering how it was we got to this place. How the same man who held his infant daughter and kissed her tiny face could one day be so determined to shut her out of his life, out of his heart. How, even when she reacyhed out to him in distress – Please, Dad, come get me, come save me – all he could do was accuse her. How that same daughter could look at him and feel nothing but contempt and blame and resentment, because that’s all that radiated off of him for so many years and it had become contagious.”

Yeah, not a nice guy at all. Her mother on the other hand blames herself. A part of her keeps wondering if it was partially her fault that Valerie got involved in the shooting and with Nick at all. She constantly worries for Valeries mental health, fearing suicidal tendencies. And you can tell how much her mom’s opinion counts for Valerie by her reaction when she realises that her mother is no longer only tries to protect her from being hurt by the outside world, but also to protect the outside world from being hurt by Valerie. The psychiatrist is the most important adult character in this book. He gives Valerie the courage to move on past her guilt and start living her life. Throughout the book he’s supportive and offers little tokens of advice. Her crazy, whimsical, eccentric art teacher plays a similar role in the book and teaches Valerie to express her emotions.

The high school students in this book are immensely complex too. There’s Jessica, the ex-bully who’ life Valerie saved. She makes a conscious effort to reach out to Valerie throughout the book. I think she’s the only one in the entire novel who doesn’t blame Valerie for the shooting at all.  At one point in the book she wonders if she had tried being nicer to Nick, would the whole chain reaction of events leading to the tragedy have been stopped?

But I think the character who walks away with the prize for the most complex character is Nick. Everyone is surprised when he turns up at school with a gun in hand. No one ever thought he was violent. But one day he snaps and takes the list that he and his girlfriend of people they hated. And he tries shooting everyone on it.

The violent persona we keep hearing about juxtaposes with Valerie’s memorise of Nick. She makes an effort to differentiate between the violent, shooter Nick and her Nick. Her Nick is the kind of guy who purposely lost to let her win, was obsessed with death and even more obsessed with Shakespeare. She wonders where the two started to blend. At the end she and Nick’s best friend conclude that they didn’t know when he decided to shoot up the school because Nick himself never knew.

Ending:3/5

Yeah, I’ve come up with a new section to put in my reviews. Over here I’ll tell you what I think about the ending and I’ll give you fair warning if there’s a cliffhanger. So, since this is not a series obviously there is no cliffhanger. That being said I feel that everything wraps up too perfectly at the end. The parents of the victims forgive her, most of the students forgive her, her friends forgive her and she forgives herself. And she decides to take a trip. Everything feels a little…overdone. Like this is the kind of story that you can say The End for.

 

Plotholes:5/5

Like always, Jennifer Brown can takes ensitive subjects like domestic violence, mental disabilities and terrorism amongst youth and present it tastefully without insulting anyone. There’s a strong anti-bullying sentiment in this novel (just like in most of her books). Thought provoking and profound, Hate List is the kind of book who’s message you cannot hate.

Overall Rating:5/5

Okay, it was actually a 4.75 but I decided to round it up. Why? Because this book is awesome and awful at the same time. This book made me cry a lot. I mean A LOT. The ugly I-can’t-stop-and-why-did-this-have-to-happen variety.  That’s what I mean by awful. But at the same time it was awesome too. I mean if it wrenched that many tears out of me, it means I seriously did have to care about the characters and the events taking place in the book.  This book is an intensely emotional and profound read. It is definitely one book that every middle schooler, high schooler and adult needs to read. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it has replaced Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell as my favourite contemporary YA.

One thing that I really love about young adult fiction is the huge variety of female characters we get here. Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games, Tris Prior from Divergent, Tally Youngblood from the Uglies… the list goes on. The truth is that young adult novel’s are way ahead of the curve in terms of the Bechdel’s test  (a test in which the main requirement is that in a piece of fictional work ,two named female characters talk about something other than men) as compared to adult fiction or movies. In young adult there are no (or very few) token female characters. You know what I mean by token female characters. This pretty girls  who hang around looking awkward and probably feeling awkward because they have no real role. Movie directors hire them to prove a point. They hire them so they can say something like : “What do you mean we discriminate between genders. Jane (or Elizabeth or Lind or any female name can be inserted here) here has a role in the movie.” But the awesome thing about young adult novels is that the female characters do actually have a role

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But that’s not saying that they’re perfect. Sometimes even in young adult novels, it seems like the author is trying too hard. She’s pretty, she fights, she has badass weapon skills, she’s the face of a rebellion, she’s definitely as good as a boy. In the process they stamp out all of the other female traits. The girls are not allowed to like dresses (unless they’re sidekicks) or hair or makeup. I’m not saying that all girls love fancy dresses, makeup and messing with their hair but sometimes it seems like author’s are trying way too hard to make it clear that their main character is above all that shallow frivolousness. But seriously if James Bond can take a break and have his masculine  ‘martini shaken, not stirred’ then why can’t a female character enjoy something feminine without criticism.

Another pet peeve (for me) is the fact that the best compliment a female character in a young adult novel is strong. If someone’s asked to describe Katniss they’ll probably use the word strong. If someone has to describe Tris, they’ll use the word strong. When it comes to describing female characters, why has everyone’s vocabulary suddenly become so limited? More importantly, when we describe male characters why do we never use the word strong. Take Sherlock Holmes. He’s arguably  the most complex and interesting fictional character. Is he strong? Not physically;that’s what sidekicks like Watson are for. But Sherlock Holmes doesn’t need to be strong. What we remember him most for is him mental acumen, his cleverness and observational skills. And for his witty dialogue, of course. He’s like an onion. Layered and good enough to make you cry. On the other hand. take Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. Again, she’s arguably the best female fictional character. But I guarantee that if you look at any character sketch of Elizabeth Bennet, you’ll find the word strong somewhere in there. And is she strong? Yeah, I guess she is . But that’s not the point here. The point is male characters don’t need to be strong. We automatically assume they are. Female characters on the other hand go around doing crazy things like  picking fights for the sake of it, ticking off  their loved one, throwing punches to prove that they are ‘just as good as the boys’. Why is having anger management issues automatically assumed to be equal to being ‘strong’ for female characters?  The whole point is that just because they are female, characters shouldn’t have to prove that they are strong! Take a look at Sophia McDougal’s article I hate strong female characters. She’s written the same idea pretty beautifully.

So while having angry, badass female characters who replace their emotions with weapons is better than having weepy, damsels in distress who wait for Prince Charming to come and save them, it’s not ideal. We need more realistic, holistic female characters. Ones who don’t have the pressure of being strong thrust on them but still don’t let that be an excuse to be weak themselves.

The Darkest Minds:A Book Revew

Book: The Darkest Minds

Author/Authors: Alexandra Bracken

The Darkest Minds (The Darkest Minds, #1)

Cover:2/5

There was nothing wrong with the cover …. But nothing really made it stand out (you would think that the orange on the cover would be like a flashing beacon, but no it actually isn’t). Combined with the fact that Disney was the publisher (I’m not really a Disney princess fan; not when they messed up the fairytales so much) , this book really didn’t look so appealing. So, I passed it up for a long time despite its good rating for other books with better covers (but inferior content). Moral of the story for publishers: Readers judge books by their covers. Moral of the story for readers: Trust your fellow readers and goodreads.com; seriously, they rarely guide you wrong.

Plot:5/5

When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that’s killed most of America’s children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control. Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones. When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. Now she’s on the run, desperate to find the one safe haven left for kids like her-East River. She joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents. When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living.

The plot in this book deserves more than 5 stars. It was attention grabbing and I’ve definitely never seen something like this before in this genre. If any such book exists, it’s a cheap knockoff (even if that book was written earlier)

Characters:5/5

The characters in this book were amazing. From Ruby, the main character to Chubs (I guess his designation is the sidekick but he was too smart for me to think of him as one) to Zu, the adorable little girl who was mentally traumatized enough into not speaking. Most books have one character (if they’re lucky) who stands out. But the awesome thing about this book is that there are many such characters.

Ruby: Ruby starts off at the beginning of the book knowing almost nothing about the world she lives in. But she has a good reason for this. Ever since she turned 10, she’s been stuck in a rehabilitiation camp (the concentration variety) because the adults are scared of her awesome super powers. So far this sounds like the plot to a cheesy comic, right? Wrong. Let’s just drive the stakes a little bit higher. Majority of the children in America had succumbed to a mysterious illness and died. The rest…developed super powers. Naturally everyone was scared. So they stuck their kids in camps which were designed to make the powers go away. That’s one brilliant thing about this book: The government and adults acted almost exactly like you would expect them to act in such a situation. However because this is dystopian fiction, the camps are horrible. The children in them are mistreated- the most dangerous ones are killed, the rest are treated brutally, not allowed to talk, forced to do hard menial labour, etc. Disturbingly,there are several parallels between the ‘rehabilitation camps’ and the Jewish concentration camps set up in Nazi Germany during WWII. But this really didn’t set in for me until Ruby tells us how her mom had told she would be allowed to shave when she was 12 but she didn’t actually do so until she was almost 16. In this book, Ruby is special because she is one of the last ‘oranges’ (that’s a code name for her power level and basically means she can mess with people’s minds- literally! ) and also dangerous for that reason. But here’s the catch: She has no idea to control her powers. Right from the beginning we can see how much her powers scare her. With one touch, she erased her best friends memory. <spoiler> somewhere in the middle we learn that she also erased her parent’s memory and in the end she erases Liam’s memory.<okay, relax spoiler’s over>. Ruby’s a good character. She’s nice without being too sugary. Scared enough without being a total coward. Powerful but not invincible and awkward enough without being cringe-worthy.

Liam: If Ruby’s a good character, than Liam is an even better one. Having come from a less notorious camp, he’s less troubled than Ruby and much nicer, sweeter and more naive for it. Liam is the kind of guy who has an actual personality. As soon as he meets her, Liam is all for travelling with Ruby. However this is not because of some twisted love-at-first-sight thing (thank god!) but more a reflection of his personality. He’s not the type of love interest whose life would revolve around his love for the MC. Ahem, Malcahi from Sanctum, I’m looking at you. No, Liam had much more going for him such as his need to help others and his  loyalty to his friend. Definitely a swoon-worthy romantic love interest.

Zu: It’s hard to learn about a character who doesn’t talk. I mean, can’t talk. Although no one ever says what, it’s implied that Zu was tortured and tested upon in the camp and was so affected she stopped speaking. Despite the fact that she doesn’t talk, it wasn’t exactly hard to learn about her. She’s a yellow (that means she can make stuff explode) but more importantly, she’s a loving little girl who’s interested in dressing up, needs a serious dose of self-confidence and fiercely loyal to her family (whether they’re related to her by blood or just bound together by necessity).

Chubs: Chubs is a character I really enjoyed. Annoyingly assured his intelligence was superior, a little bit (okay, actually a lot) distrustful and insecure- he’s the type of character who grows on you. And he didn’t just grow on me as a reader, he grew on Ruby too. As he came to trust her more, they had surprisingly insightful and profound discussions.

Clancy: This is a character who oozes charisma (not surprising, since he is the President’s son). At first I was kind of annoyed with him for appearing because I really didn’t want a love triangle. But there’s a lot going on underneath the polished and charming exterior of this boy. I guess you could call him the villain of the piece but I was never really able to muster up any real hatred for this character (By the way, Ruby wasn’t able to either). Sure he was petty, arrogant and jealous with a strong cruel streak. But that somehow added to his charm (believe me, I know how messed up that sounds) but somehow he managed to make it all up with a short letter to Ruby.

R-

I lied. I would have run.

-C

 

Romance: 5/5

The romance in this book was surprisingly good. It wasn’t too heavy, neither was it too light. It didn’t hurt that the characters involved in it were so brilliant either.

Plotholes: 4/5

 This book was surprisingly realistic. I mean if a virus such as IANN did exist I could imagine the world (or at least America) going to Hell in a handbasket like this. Of course there were some unhealthy messages in here. For example, Ruby’s whole relationship with Clancy but the book made it clear that the relationship was unhealthy.

Overall Rating: 5/5

No, I’m not surprised I gave this book a five star rating and you shouldn’t be either. It was amazing, I promise you and totally deserves this rating. Buy this books as soon as possible so that you can read it over and over and over again.