By Neal Shusterman
This is another book I picked up in my random ‘smash and grab’ from the teen section in the local library. Of the books that I borrowed, this is perhaps the best and most haunting.
The premise is that in the future, there’s a war between the different sides of the abortion debate that concluded in a compromise that pregnancy could not be terminated but that children between 13 and 18 could be harvested for organs as long as 99.4% of their body was used in transplants. The theory here was they would still be alive, just divided. It’s a horrible thought but knowing what atrocities have been justified in the past, it’s just the science that makes it far fetched.
The great thing about this book is that it provides a reasonable excuse for the society to justify the disposal on individuals that fall within the age bracket. Neal does a great job of the setting and establishing the horror for those selected. The story is centred around three children who have been sentenced to this fate.
What works is the variety of reasons that are given for parents and guardians committing their children to being unwound. The main character Connor is handed over for unwinding because his parents could not control his behavior. The book starts with him finding the order and escaping. Risa is the main female character and she lives in an orohange being raised by the state. They evaluate her academic progress and decide to unwind her in order to respond to budget cuts. The final main character, Levi, is being sent as a tithe. He has religious parents and as the 10th child, he is their 10% tithe (of course they never stop to consider that Levi himself is donating 100%).
Through the book there are other children and Neal finds many, many reasons for his society to find children expendable. One is the result of a messy divorce where the parents could not agree on custody. Another child is an orphan sent to live with an aunt after her mother dies and the aunt decides unwinding is the best option so that she can get her hands on that child’s inheritance. The list goes on. It’s sobering to realize that there are without doubt, people in the world who would take the easy way out with their children if it was available to them. Perhaps this is the reason I liked the book so much, the credible story (“You’ll still be alive, just in a divided state” and “change is hard”) allows for denial that everyone buys into. As humans we have lived with denial in the past, have a look at the justifications for slavery during the worst of the transatlantic trade.
If you are looking for something that changes a single aspect of our society and created a picture about how we would behave, then this is the book for you.
As a book is it part one of a four part series but the book stands alone. It’s an excellent read and literally one that I couldn’t put down.