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Saturday, April 18, 2009

In which I am unwound by Neal Shusterman's Unwind

So I'm roving about the classroom yesterday as students work on drafting their research essays. "What do you think?" one guy asks. I read his intro. "It's okay," I tell him. "But just okay. It doesn't grab me, doesn't make me want to read on." And what I'm thinking is, that I'll have to anyway because that's my job. Which doesn't exactly fill me with thoughts of glee. What it mostly makes me think is what I expressed next - in a slightly kinder form than you'll see it here - which is that if there's one thing I want to express to student writers it is that good writing makes readers feel that the writer is so passionately engaged in the task that whether we agree or disagree, whether it pleases us or horrifies us, we feel compelled to read on. We do not sit or stand there thinking, huh! I'm going to have to read this and when I'm done, the only thing that will occur is that I'm 10 minutes closer to death (20 if it's particularly unintelligible and lengthy, which somehow often seem to go together) and I will have spent those minutes on this paper, minutes that I'm never getting back and during which I might have done any number of things more pleasurable, including but not limited to root canal surgery.

Which gets me to something that I've now read four times in a row and will probably read more times because it's so wonderfully and skillfully horrifying that I can't stop reading it, which is the actual unwinding scene near the end of Neal Shusterman's Unwind. If you haven't read it, Shusterman's Unwind is a dystopian YA in a future that is far enough away that iPod's are no longer in use and in which, after a 2nd Civil War over abortion rights called the Heartland War, abortion is outlawed, but parents can legally "unwind" a child during ages 13 - 19. Teenage years. Once the "unwind" orders are signed by mom and dad, there's no going back. You won't be dead - you'll be in a "divided state" - having been completely gutted, taken apart and re-harvested elsewhere. Your kidney to someone with kidney failure. Your arm to someone who's been in an accident. The three main protagonists are Conner, whose rebellious ways have caused his parents to sign the orders - and purchase tickets to the Bahamas for the rest of the family for the day after he's sent off to the Harvest Camp; Risa - a ward of the state who is going to be unwound because she no longers shows sufficient promise as a pianist ( parents, btw, can also "stork" their newborns, which means that they can legally abandon them on someone's doorstep and if they're not caught, then the family who received the baby has to raise it); and Lev - who initially seems happy that his family is "tithing" him at his thirteenth birthday. He's going to Harvest Camp feeling all spiritually moved by his impending sacrifice. Through a series of circumstances, these three are thrown together and the plot twists and turns and scares the pants off you from there.

But back to that scene. I haven't read a scene for awhile that dug in like that and was so starkly scary. This one is. You read it and you know you're in the hands of a master of the craft. And then you read it again.

So if you're reading this, please let me know. What scenes - for whatever reason- have you read that simply won't let you dig them out of your head?

Til next time...

3 comments:

Jen said...

There's a scene in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami that I wish I never read. It involves a person being... nevermind. I can't even type it.

Stephanie said...

I've just started reading "Unwound" and I am so hooked I will probably use it for my booktalk. (I am a grad student at the School of Library and Information studies in Alberta). I am a bit hesitant to talk about such a dark novel, but then again I think it would totally pull in many teens, especially boys, and be ideal for reluctant readers. Plus we are reading a few other dystopian titles for this course, including Feed and Little Brother, both of which you'd probably really like.
Thanks for the interesting blog entry. I'm glad to hear that you too found Unwound totally gripping!

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