Book Review: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Also known as the book that scared the crap out of this reader.

It’s not rare that I find a book I love and give it five stars. It is, however, rare, for me to find a book that I love so much, it makes me regret giving those other books five stars, because they just cannot even compare. It’s times like this where I wish there was a + feature to add that to the stars so the book really stands out.

So what is it about this book that makes it stand out so far above the others? First, the characters. They were realistic and changed throughout the story in ways that made me appreciate them even more. Even the characters that I started to hate at first were redeemed at some point in the novel (at least the kids were – not so much the adults). The plot is brilliant and horrifyingly unique. I’ve never read anything that had an idea like this, and I appreciate that. Finally, this is the only book that has legitimately made me cry from FEAR. I felt it as an ache in my chest, and then me, a twenty-seven year old, started to cry for the atrocities that were being committed against the Unwinds right on the page. And not because I felt bad for them, either, but because it genuinely frightened me that a world like this even existed in a book.

Connor is an Unwind who runs away to save himself. Risa is an Unwind who runs when she sees the chance. Lev is a tithe who thinks being unwound is a holy thing. When the three of them meet up, the world they live in will be thrown off course.

Connor may start off as a kid who readers like and dislike, but by the end of the book I, like the other kids, saw him as a hero. The scene that did it for me was the short chapter from the Clappers perspective as Connor is being led to the Chop Shop, he looks up at Risa on the roof, and blows her a kiss. Somehow that just cemented him as a hero in my book. It was so brave, romantic, and terribly sad at the same time.

Risa is a wonderful character who finds that she has more value than others have previously found in her.

And Lev. I think he changes the most. From starting off as a tithe who WANTS to be unwound because it is the purpose in his life to the transformation he undergoes after witnessing CyFi’s breakdown… it’s incredible. And hard to remember that he is only thirteen the entire book.

Finally Roland. He may not be a main character, but it’s a scene with him that had me so frightened. He’s a jerk. No other way to look at it. And I wanted him to get what was coming to him because I thought he deserved it. Until it actually happened. The scene of Roland’s unwinding scared the hell out of me. It wasn’t that it was overly descriptive. But as a reader, you know what’s happening through what Roland sees… or doesn’t see. Like his feet. When he says he looks down but cannot see him, and then they remove the lower half of the table, I knew half of him was gone. And then my brain, lovely thing that it is, zoomed out as if it was a movie and showed him laying on a table, only exisiting from the waist up. And the thought that he was a) kept concious during the unwinding and b) the doctor’s treated him like a nonexistent specimen just made me feel sick. In fact, I feel sick again thinking about it!

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Review: Dark Life by Kat Falls

I love dystopian, post-apocalyptic fiction for teens, and Dark Life by Kat Falls falls into that category. I have it for my students to read in my classroom, but I hadn’t read it until this weekend. It was one of this “oh, it’s there, I’ll get to it eventually” books. Like so many books, I really wish I hadn’t waited.

The book is told from the perspective of Ty, a boy living undersea with his parents after the Rising, a catastrophic event that destroyed a lot of land, resulting in people being crammed into whatever land is left. The only place where people can live with their own land is, well, on the bottom of the ocean floor.

Ty loves living there, and after finding an abandoned sub, he runs into Gemma, and the two are off on a dangerous adventure that will change not only their lives, but also the lives of everyone around them.

I loved the characters and the plot in this book. There were so many twists and turns that I was thrown for a loop every time it changed! That rarely happens for me, so kudos to the author! The cover of the book is appealing visually as well, because the title looks like Mother of Pearl at a certain angle, possibly mimicking the “shine” the characters have from eating bioluminescent fish.

But back to the characters. Ty loves living undersea and will do just about anything to stay there, including hiding who he is. He fears going Topside, and readers do find out why later on. When the Seablite Gang appears, there are so many questions unanswered. Quite a few of them are by the end of the book, but before those are solved, even more questions popped up. Are people who they really say they are? Who is the mysterious Akai that scientists supposedly studied? Who is the doctor who wrote the report? How much land around the world is left, and are there really no other undersea territories?

While I was reading this book, I was reminded very much of Ganymede by Robert Heinlein. The idea of homesteading in an area that was once deemed unfit for human life fascinates me, and in that regard the books are similar. It is also about coming of age in such a landscape, though in Dark Life the homestead is underwater, and in Ganymede, the homestead is on a moon of Jupiter.

The books is published by Scholastic and has a sequel, Rip Tide, out now. I cannot wait to get my hands on it!