Monday, October 4, 2010

The Shocking Premise of "Unwind" & The Dangers of Morality

One of my blog friends recently suggested I pick up the YA (young adult) novel "Unwind" by Neal Shusterman.  It was painful to read, at times, but I'm very glad I did. "Unwind" contains so many relevant and timely themes and warnings, I think it should be read by people of all ages.

The high-concept pitch is here: Years after America's second Civil War--called the "Heartland War," which pitted pro-lifers against pro-choice factions in a bloody, one-issue battle--peace is restored after a third party introduces the ironic idea of saving all babies while retroactively aborting troublesome or unwanted teenagers in a process called "unwinding." 

To be unwound means to have all of your bodily parts removed and recycled for use in transplants and other medical procedures. "Unwinding" very technically and literally does not mean killing, as all body parts are kept "alive" but put to use for other people. It is a strangely inhumane compromise, and troubled teens scheduled for unwinding are going AWOL, and unwinding's opponents have to stay underground, fighting a silent battle against this so-called "moral" idea, which was rather accidentally accepted in a last-ditch effort to end the terrible war.

The very idea of "Unwind" shocked me and fascinated me at the same time. When the book arrived at my house, I couldn't wait to read it...and yet, after opening it, I felt sick right away. The crazy idea of "unwinding" is so abhorrent to me, so disgusting, I could hardly bear to read the novel. 

But read I did. I love a thought-provoking read, and "Unwind" is it. I kept wondering, how could "unwinding" happen in a civilized society? Could it actually happen here? How do people adjust to such evil ideas? The entire premise reeked of Nazism, of intolerance gone astray.

I should also explain that I have long been stunned by the ignorance attached to "one-issue" voting. I have spoken out, myself, about the misguided (im)morality of voting merely for the "pro-life" candidate, even when he or she is actually promoting killing in so many other forms (capital punishment, environmental destruction, no gun control, etc).

I would not get an abortion myself, and certainly not now, as an adult, but I know that it is not my place--nor any other person's--to say that all women who get pregnant, especially against their will, must endure pregnancy and childbirth.

That is immoral right there. Women need to decide for themselves what will happen to their bodies. It is also not moral, in my opinion, to force unwanted babies to be born.

I feel I can speak about this particularly well, since I was adopted. I am sure I was unwanted. What happens to unwanted babies? They end up in orphanages, adoption centers, in morgues or in Dumpsters. 

Only one of those options is semi-decent. 

As a child born to a woman raised in a strict Catholic household, I am sure that my birth mother had, because of her schooling, not received much, if any, information about birth control. I have no doubt that she felt she could never, not in a million years, tell her parents that she was pregnant, and if her pregnancy had not been finally discovered near my birth date, then what would have happened to me? I might have been left on a doorstep, if I was lucky.

We've all heard horror stories about young women who drop their newborns in toilets or throw them away in the trash. Some might say that only a woman without a conscience might commit such an act. I suspect it's quite the opposite: sometimes hyper-religiosity, and years of hearing "abortion is wrong!" can lead to such horror. Those young, pregnant and religiously-raised young women are often, I believe, in intense states of denial; they are also so scared and in shock that they don't even know what they're doing. They just want the baby to go away.

What I know for sure is that there are too many gray areas in life for anyone to ever be able to say with finality, "That is wrong and this is right." It's never that simple. Not about abortion, not about anything.

If you've read some history, you know that forced pregnancies in Romania under the Ceausescu dictatorship led to a massive, horrific orphan crisis.  People all over the world--and here, too, even now, and usually in the name of religion--have way too many children. ("Too many" to me is having kids you don't even have time to talk to one-on-one, read to, support or deal with.)

Is that right? All children should be cherished and wanted and loved...otherwise, how can we expect them to grow into good, productive, and yes, moral people who try to make the world a better place?

If our government forced women to bear children, what kind of chaos/hell might ensue?

"Unwind" lays it out for the reader. In this novel, babies are abandoned daily, or "storked," due to a loophole in the law. Parents who are tired of dealing with their kids sign them away for unwinding.

Even though most people have no idea what "unwinding" actually entails--and let me just tell you now (spoiler alert!) that it's worse than you think because the "unwound" are fully conscious while it's happening, due to another strange, "pro-life" aspect of this so-called "moral" compromise--millions are unwound each year in attractive "harvest camps." Some children are even tithed at birth to be unwound, as sacrificial offerings.

Harrowing, dystopian literature such as "Unwind" is not only full of fascinating but scary "what ifs," it is also full of warnings. "Unwind" warns us not to let an obsession with protecting life lead--ironically--to misery, bloodshed, violence and indefinable states of death. It begs the reader to think for her or himself and not let jingoism lead to inhumanity.

It forces the reader to feel what it's like to be unwanted, and what it's like to be unwound. 


  1. More people need to see the connection between so-called morality and religion and intolerance and cruelty. Shusterman clearly does, as do you. I am going to read this novel. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. You're welcome! What is so frightening is how far this could go unless we are alert to the signs of danger...I fear sometimes that the hyper-partisan climate we are currently experiencing could incubate precisely this sort of misguided "morality" that was portrayed in "Unwind."


    Elizabeth Collins

  3. Excellent post! It makes me shudder to think that people actually do vote according to this one issue. No one has a right to tell anyone what to do with their bodies. The irony is blatant!

    This book sounds interesting and thought-provoking; something everyone needs in their stop and think. Thanks for this post-I wouldn't have known about this book otherwise!

  4. I can't even believe, TeachersAreGreat, how many people just blindly vote single issues. They honestly don't even care about the politicians' stances on the other issues...which is hypocrisy, of course, not to mention willfull ignorance.

    We'd all be better off if we just personally applied the Golden Rule to ourselves...and did not try to tell other people how to think or what to do.

    I always say, if you believe abortion is wrong, don't have one. I wouldn't, because it wouldn't be right for me. But, again, it is not my place to force anyone else to do or think the same. So many worse things could actually happen in that case...

    Do read "Unwind." Your kids will like it, too. I met a woman in the gym who told me it was her daughter's new favorite book; she'd read it six times and passed it to mom, too.

    Thanks for reading.



  5. I concur with your fears Elizabeth. As a parent, I read the book after my son and was so gripped by its cautionary tale that I am now producing the movie of "Unwind" along with three other like-minded parents! Check out our website

  6. You can't control what others do; you can only control how you react to them. I live and breathe this now. I see the ignorance and the willfull hypocracy all around me every day but I cannot change them, I can only change myself. There will always be stupid people in the world; I just try to avoid them at all costs to keep my sanity! Thanks again for the post!

  7. A film of "Unwind" should be *very* interesting!

    @TeachersAreGreat, I know you are right, but I still have to speak out when people abuse me or anyone else. That is not right. It is stupid, yes, that people act this way, but I can't just stand there and not say anything. I still have to hope that other people will join in the protest or work to not let it happen again.