It has been months since I set this blog up and haven't had a post on a book yet. Since then I had graduation, and went back to summer camp and yada yada yada and things (including this blog that I set up randomly) got put on hold. I also haven't really read a book that I hadn't felt compelled to write about.
Now, this book doesn't really count as nostalgia, since it was written in 2007, and of course I was well out of my teens by that point, but it is in the young adult genre, so it's close enough.
I stumbled upon this book by accident. I had never heard of it (even though it's gotten pretty stellar reviews from critics and has a 4.5/5 star rating on amazon), however, when I was at Barnes and Noble this past Friday, it was right up and center near the checkout line being promoted with the other books in the series for 50% off. I can't remember what initially drew me to pick up the book and look at the back cover, but I think it had something to do with YA dystopian lit. The back cover synopsis had me hooked, so I took it up to the register and bought it.
2 1/2 days later, here I am.
The book takes place in the not so distant future. My guess would be MAYBE 100 years. It feels very "now" but there are some instances where you can tell it's not current. It takes place sometime after the second civil war, which was called the Heartland War, and it was basically fought over abortion. It doesn't go into too much detail about the war itself (it was stated in the book that history books ended with it, but because of state testing, they usually never got to that point.). The war was ended when something called The Bill of Life was signed and ratified. This bill made abortion illegal, but between the ages of 13 and 18, parents (or the state or whomever was in charge of kids who for whatever reason did not have parents) could sign something and have their kids "unwound". They could choose this for a number of reasons, and we meet several characters whom for whatever reason have been chosen to be unwound. Once they have been chosen to be unwound, it's pretty much a done deal, unless they somehow escape. They are in the hands of the government and are taken away to "harvest camps" to await their unwinding which could happen anywhere between a couple of days to months or years.
What is unwinding?
When these kids are unwound, they are basically dissected piece by piece and every last inch of their body (except for some useless organs like the appendix) are harvested to either people who need them or are willing to pay $$ to get something better. The rationale is that since their body parts are still living in someone else, they are not really dead.
Let's just let that sink in for a moment.
The book follows three main characters. There is Conner Lassiter who is sixteen. He is your average "bad boy" who gets into trouble at school, makes less than average grades, and is your troublemaker, but essentially a good kid. He finds out by accident that his parents have signed an order to have him unwound. He gets suspicious when he finds three tickets to the Bahamas for his parents and younger brother, but not for him. He finds the unwinding order signed by his parents and he is scheduled to be taken away one day before their scheduled trip. He tries to guilt his parents. He buys his mother flowers, and comes home with an A on a test, but eventually he gets no satisfaction out of this. He eventually packs his backpack, takes his cell phone, and runs.
Risa Ward is a ward of the state. She is raised in a state home (she and its residents are known as StaHos) . She is an excellent piano player, but the people at the state home have decided she has reached her full potential, and due to budget cuts she is sent on a bus with other StaHos to be unwound. She is character that is extremely logical and can help diffuse sitatuations between certain characters. This is due in part to her upbringing in the state home. She also becomes a love interest to Conner. However, the love story doesn't take over the book. It's in the background, and you can see that the characters truly end up caring for each other (after their initial distrust and dislike), but it doesn't overpower the book.
Levi (Lev) Jedidiah Calder is a tithe. What this means is that his family donates 10% of everything to the church. He is the tenth child, therefore he is raised to be eventually unwound. He has known about this his entire life. He has expected that when he turns 13 he will be sent to an unwinding camp. He is prepared and actually WELCOMES it, thinking he is doing it for God and the greater good. He is the character that changes the most in the book. He begins to question everything and I feel is one of the best developed characters in the book.
The three cross paths when Conner is eventually tracked by his cell phone. He manages to escape and in the process cause the bus that Risa is on to crash, and he "kidnaps" Lev who is also at the scene. The book follows their journey. In the beginning Lev tries to thwart Conner and Risa's attempts to escape. After all, he's a tithe, and they're unwounds. His thinking is, he was raised for this. This is his destiny. They're just troublemakers and there must be some reason why they were chosen to be unwound. Lev tries to turn himself in, but when he calls his parents to come "rescue" him so he can be taken to the harvest camp, the family pastor answers the phone and tells him to run. Get away. The pastor was with Lev and his family at the scene of the accident as well, and told him the same thing, but Lev misinterpreted it at that point in time. This time the pastor is telling him to run for his life. He told Levi's parents to to put the word out that he was a runaway unwound so he would not be captured. Since Lev has looked up the pastor his entire life, this makes him start to question everything. He escapes and is separated from Risa and Conner
The book is a roller coaster ride. We meet several characters. Risa and Conner pick up a baby along the way. The baby had been put on someone's doorstep. This is called "storking". If a mother is unable or not wanting to take care of her baby, she can leave it on the doorstep. If she leaves without being caught, the person who finds the baby is now legally the parent. Conner's parents had a baby left on their doorstep. Not wanting to take the baby in, they then left the baby on another neighbor's doorstep. A couple of weeks later, the baby reappeared on their doorstep. The baby had been passed around from neighbor to neighbor and by this time the baby was very sick and died.Conner did not want the same fate to fall upon this baby, so he rescued her. They named her Didi, and she was eventually taken in by someone who helped Conner and Risa escape.
We also meet a character named Cyrus Finch, or CyFi. CyFi is not an unwound. He is an umber (or African American by today's standards). He was a storked baby who was given to a gay couple who was wanting to start a family, so they gladly took him in. However, CyFi has been given parts that belonged to a kid who was unwound. Something is driving him to Joplin, MO, that he is not completely aware of. The unwound teenager is still somewhat alive in him. He and Lev start on a journey cross country to fulfill the inner drive that is inside of him. (I'm not going to go into too much detail, but the scene with CyFi is pretty powerful).
While Lev and CyFi are on their journey, Conner and Risa are being shuttled along on this underground railroad of sorts for Unwinds. They are taken to safe houses and a warehouse and are eventually shipped in cargo boxes on a plane to a plane graveyard in Arizona that is led by a character named the Admiral, who has a past that is connected to the Heartland War and the Bill of Life.
Other characters that we meet:
Ember (Zachary). An unwind. He had Cystic Fibrosis when he was a child, and he was given the lung of an unwind who had asthma. It saved his life, but now he has asthma. Both his parents died, and he was sent to live with his aunt who had three other kids to send through to college, and so she signed for him to be unwound.
Roland: The main antagonist. He is your all around bully. Conner might have been a troublemaker, but you can tell for the most part with Conner, his heart is in the right place. He had a rough childhood, and his mother married a SOB who beat her. Roland ended up defending his mother, but in the end, his mother sided with his stepfather and he was sent to be unwound. Roland is an unlikeable character for most of the book, but there is a lot about his past that brought him to where he's at now that you see.
Hayden: He is your rich kid with a smirk. He kind of reminds me of Finnick O'Dair from the Hunger Games in some way, though I can't quite put my finger on it. He is the son of two feuding divorced parents, who decided they would rather have Hayden unwound than let the other parent get custody of him.
Mai: A girl of Chinese descent with pink hair that wears a spiked collar. She is the fourth girl to parents who desperately wanted a son. When they finally had him, they sent her to be unwound.
Those are just a FEW of the characters, as there are several others, some more prominent than others.
Some parts that stand out:
The first "safe house" that Conner and Risa go to is in the basement of an antique shop. In said antique shop, are things that belonged to their grandparents generation. Like Ipods. (This is primarily where I get my no more than 100 years into the future thing). There is also "an ancient plasma screen TV." The TV is playing a movie that shows a future that never came with a white haired scientist and flying cars.
Back to the Future Part II???
Towards the end of the book, we go through the Unwinding process. I will not say what character it happens to, but I will say it is just about the most disturbing thing I have EVER read. At least in a fictional setting. I sat there staring at the end of the chapter dumbfounded trying to process what the hell I had just read. And the doctors and nurses who were there? They just went around like it was a normal every day occurrence, which for them? IT WAS. I don't think anything I can say can really express what the hell I felt after reading that. If you want spoilers, I will post this short film that's on youtube . It is basically what happens in the book, but with a completely made up character that is not in the book.
There is also another scene at the end of the book that is ...well, I wouldn't really call it so much disturbing as creepy. It involves the Admiral, and his past connections with the war and unwinding. I won't delve into too much detail, but it takes place after the unwinding incident and is in the last few pages of the book, but not quite at the very end.
This book is thought provoking. It asks questions such as:Do we have souls? What happens when we essentially no longer have a body? If a person's parts are indeed living as part of another per son who is alive, (Transplants?) Does that mean that that person is not really dead? CyFi makes the comment that the person that he got part of his brain from is living inside of him, but he doesn't know that he was unwound. He doesn't understand it. Cy compares it to a ghost not knowing that they are dead.
What I liked about it is that it seems to have a firm middle ground. It gets into a lot of spirituality, and while there are adult religious figures (one being "good" one being "bad"), it doesn't really sway too much to either side of the argument. It's more about that there was such a division between the two that they had to come up with this extreme solution that would somehow satisfy both parties. The desperation that these kids feel you can feel. Some of them go to extreme lengths to not be unwound. Some turn themselves virtually into human bombs. They insert something into their bloodstream that when they clap (they're called clappers), they will explode. This plays a pivotal role in the book, but I will not say how or who or when. They are essentially terrorists who are desperate to avoid becoming unwound. The thing is, they can never fully remove the poison from the blood, and they can't KILL them, so they can never be unwound.
I'm not going to go into too much more detail. If you have not read the book, I suggest you do so. Just be prepared. There are two more books in the series, plus a novella, and a fourth book coming out in 2014. You can bet that Unwholly (the second book) is next on my "to read" list.
Oh, and apparently there's a movie in the works. Scheduled to come out in 2015. I do not believe casting has started yet, but they're in the early stages (and apparently have been for quite some time.)