My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Leaving aside the issues of 1) why the future is always a scary place in YA lit, and 2) why I feel the need to read so many of these dystopian stories, let’s talk about Unwind. I picked it up because the premise was intriguing, and I’ve read enough of Shusterman’s books to know he’s got some follow-through and won’t make the story cheap and sensationalistic. Instead, we’ve got a nice brisk pace, a gripping story, and complex and interesting characters. The story is told in the third person, but the focus shifts between three main characters – two slightly older teens, a boy and a girl, and one thirteen year old boy – with occasional short chapters focused on supporting characters.
This technique worked surprisingly well, since Shusterman always makes a point of letting you know right off the bat that we’re meeting a new character – a teen mother, or a teacher who will play a brief but key role, or a guard at the harvest camp who will turn out to be important. It also works because these secondary characters are quickly sketched but remarkably developed. With a few small details, you suddenly understand a motivation.
And the book’s “issues,” you ask? Never simplified, no pat answers, no easy resolution. Rather than being preachy on any side of an issue, the story lets the characters tell their stories without judgment. While there are some reprehensible religious characters, there are also characters who realize there are other ways to be religious. There are characters who learn to accept the good that can come out of terrible things. It’s never simple.