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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Unwholly by Neal Shusterman

Unwholly is the second book in the Unwind trilogy, but I didn't feel like it suffered from "sophomore slump" at all.  (A quick word of warning: there won't be any Unwholly spoilers in this review, but there may be some spoilers for Unwind.  If you haven't read the first book yet, I highly recommend that you check it out.)  This dystopian series has a very, very unique plot to it.  The setting is a future America; an America recovering from the effects of the Heartland War.  This civil war was fought between those who were pro-choice and those who were pro-life.  The final outcome; the final "compromise;" is that fetal abortion is now illegal, but parents have the right to retroactively abort any unruly teens between the ages of 13 and 16.  These teens are not killed outright.  They are "unwound," and 99.4% of their bodies (organs + muscles + skin) are parceled out to hospitals to use on ill or injured people.  So if you have an accident and your leg is crushed, you can just go to a hospital and have a new leg attached.

Unwholly begins a few months after the end of Unwind.  Connor and Risa are still at The Graveyard, and Lev is under house arrest.  In Unwind, we saw a lot of character growth for Connor, and I feel like he's almost an entirely new person in this second book.  He's a great leader, leading by example instead of by order.  The Graveyard is running like clockwork, with more AWOL Unwinds arriving each week.  There are scenes early in the book where Connor is interacting with adults on behalf of The Graveyard group, and the reader can really see his maturity.  Where he was impetuous and rash and self-destructive at the beginning of Unwind, he is now communicative, mature, and reasonably level-headed.  I feel like Unwind Connor would have immediately gone out and started blowing up Harvest Camps, but Unwholly Connor realizes that the fastest, most violent path isn't necessarily the best one.

This book, like the first one, is told from multiple points of view, from both sides of the action.  There are some new characters that really help to advance the story and keep it from feeling like just a "bridge" book in the trilogy.  There's Cam, who is a teen who doesn't exist.  Risa comes into contact with him, and he brings up an entirely new facet to the debate.  (I know: what could possibly get more controversial than the idea of a future where parents can retroactively abort their teens?  You'll be surprised.)  He's another character who shows a lot of growth over the course of the book.  I love how Neal Shusterman introduces him into the story from his own point of view, so the reader isn't able to figure out at first exactly what's going on.  We're just as confused as Cam.  This also allows the reader to make up their own mind about Cam before reading what the world thinks of him.  There's also Miracolina, who is a tithe.  While parts of the story are from her point of view, we don't see too much from her, and by the end of the book she's still determined to be a tithe.  I feel like there's going to be a lot more of her in the third book.

Some folks are nervous about books with multiple points of view; worried that it will be hard to keep track of all the different characters, especially when the characters are in multiple locations.  But Neal Shusterman does this very well in Unwind and Unwholly.  I never once got confused about who was speaking or what side a character was on.  Each chapter is clearly labeled as to who is speaking, and the author weaves in little reminders of setting in each section to remind us of where the character is.  For instance, when the story switches from Risa in Hawaii to Connor in The Graveyard, there's mention of how hot Connor feels sitting under an airplane wing.  A very subtle reminder of where Connor is.

What about the romance?  Practically nil.  If you're looking to swoon, Unwholly is not really the book for you.  But there's ton of action!  And adventure!  And the plot of this book will definitely make you think.

Overall, I give Unwholly two enthusiastic thumbs up.  While I don't think it would work as a standalone, I highly recommend this dystopian trilogy (so far) to both teens and adults.  The well-developed characters and sensitive political debate regarding abortion will appeal to deep thinkers of any age.

Tynga is a 32 years old mom of two, from Montreal, working as a lab technician in an hospital specialized in heart disease. In her free time, she enjoys reading all things Paranormal and photography.

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