The Unwind Dystology by Neal Shusterman

I came late to Unwind and its sequels. I’m not really the kind of person with the restraint it takes to wait until a whole series is out (and this one isn’t, quite) and then read it all in one sitting–I’m far too impatient and in need of good things to read! But for whatever reason, I was busy with other things, and Unwind just got put on the back burner until, well, now.

Which presents a new kind of problem: HOW ON EARTH am I supposed to review three books for you at once?? I’ve been done with book 3, UnSouled, for more than a week, now, and I’ll be honest: I’ve been putting this off, because I’ve felt so daunted by the task. But at this point, I’m running the risk of forgetting what happened, and I DO NOT want that, because these books are truly, intensely awesome.

SO: Unwind basically blew my mind. That sounds trite, but allow me to qualify. The book is a sci-fi, dystopian survival adventure, like so many others. What sets it apart is the intelligence and ethical boundary-pushing wrapped up in the plot. Unwind centers on the practice of physically “unwinding” wild or criminal teenagers, at the behest of the state or their parents. I’ll allow you to read and find out what, exactly, unwinding means, but Shusterman is skilled at portraying the politics involved in both sides of the equation, and the confusion of many of the characters involved as they struggle with questions of ethics and try to figure out what’s right for themselves. Truthfully, the book is disturbing, because portions of it are just close enough to plausible. Though unwinding, itself, is unlikely to happen, the circumstances that led Connor and Risa’s version of our government to that point are entirely likely, and, in some cases, we are already on that path. It’s just…well, it’s downright freaky.

As for the writing itself, it’s fantastic. Connor and Risa are fabulous characters (a truly independent girl! Love her!) and Lev is such an unlikely, interesting supporting character. The action just keeps coming, and the ending is a truly unexpected, ethereal wonder. If you feel you’ve only got time for one book in this series, make Unwind that book–I feel like it’s the best of the three, and I’ll absolutely read it again.

I picked up two PG-13 swear words. Otherwise clean. 5 stars.


UnWholly, like most middle series novels, felt a good deal slower in pace than the first, because there was so much more exposition happening. Connor, Risa, and Lev’s stories are developing, but a lot of things are setting up for the next book. The introduction of Cam, though, made things interesting and fresh. The longer we know him, the more we like him, and yet, the more disturbing the very idea of him becomes. Shusterman continues to challenge readers with moral and philosophical questions about life, death, and the soul. He also pushes them to think through the kinds of things they’re hearing from the media; perceptive readers will see the fallacies in the arguments as they’re presented, and yet, it’s hard not to see some of the logic in them, as well. My hope, as an adult reader, is that younger readers will be able to pick up on the way truths can be twisted to meet specific ends, and apply that as a filter throughout the rest of their lives. I loved how Shusterman was able to slip that teaching moment in, here (and in the next book, as well).

The writing, while a touch slower here, was consistently excellent. Again, a couple of low-grade swear words. 4 stars.


In UnSouled, the action picks back up again. Here, all of our characters’ lives converge, and we gain Grace, my new favorite, and Starkey, a champion of storked (abandoned) kids, like himself. The teens also have several encounters with Nelson, the vengeful Juvey Cop who originally tried to arrest Connor, and got tranquilized instead. The whole novel builds in romantic tension, political intrigue, and action throughout, and it’s just plain crazy fun. We also (finally!) get more background on how unwinding came to be, and the governmental fallout since the laws have changed over the past couple of years. Shusterman takes many of his ideas and details straight from news articles from the last few years, which is just…well, it’s downright freaky. He gives us quotes and citations at each section break, and it was enough for me to exclaim out loud and read things to my husband almost every time I got to one of those pages. It’s clearly a fictional book–don’t get me wrong–but reading it is just enough to make you uncomfortable about how things could go if you never got involved, never voted, and if politicians were bad enough and left unchecked long enough. It’s just…creepy. But in a good, important way, if that makes any sense?


I loved this series, and I’m pleased there’s yet another book coming. UnSouled was just released in October, so you may have to wait a bit for it at the library, but the rest should be no problem! Happy reading!

4.5 Stars

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