Unwind (novel)

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A vague humanoid usually form is , its left hand extended as if waving or motioning for help. The atmosphere is gloomy. A human fingerprint is overlaid on the image. Near the bottom of the image, the only way she did it is to the share she was the title "Unwind", along with the author's name, is stenciled in a thin font. Underneath the author's name reads the phrase "Author of Everlost".
Original hardcover edition
AuthorNeal Shusterman
Cover artistDaniel Roode
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish and
GenreScience fiction, biopunk, adventure, dystopia, dystopian fiction
PublisherSimon & Schuster
Publication date
Media typeHardback, paperback

Unwind is a 2007 science fiction novel by young adult literature author Neal Shusterman. It takes place in the United States in the near future. After the Second Civil War, or the Heartland War, was fought over abortion, a compromise was reached, allowing parents to sign an order for their children between the ages of 13 and 18 to be unwound—taken to "harvest camps" and having their body parts harvested for later use. The reasoning was that since 99.44% of the body had to be used (the other 0.56% are vestigial organs), unwinds did not technically die because their individual body parts lived on. In addition to unwinding, parents who are unable to raise their children to age 13 for retroactive abortion have the option to "stork" their child by leaving it on another family's porch. If they don't get caught, the "storked" baby then becomes the other family's responsibility.

Unwind received positive reviews upon release, with praise focusing on the novel's immersive environment and sociological implications. It also received many awards from young adult literature authorities[citation needed]. A film adaptation of Unwind is currently in production by independent producers.[1] A second novel titled UnWholly was released in August 2012,[2] and a third in December 2013, titled UnSouled and a fourth in October 2014, titled UnDivided. A novella, UnStrung, was also published. UnBound is the newest edition to the Unwind Dystology. It's written by Neal Shusterman (Creator), Michelle Knowlden, Jarrod Shusterman, Terry Black, and Brendan Shusterman. It was published December 15, 2015 by Simon & Schuster. This collection of novellas gives the readers more insight into the secrets and lost stories of the Unwind world.


The story centers around two teens and a tithe who have been scheduled to be unwound. They are all runaways, which is known as "kicking AWOL"; Connor, a sixteen-year-old whose family believes he'd gotten into too many fights, Risa, a ward of the state who doesn't make it in the State Home's continuing program because of budget cuts, and Lev, a tithe whose rich parents had him specifically to be unwound, as Lev and his family believe 10% of everything they have should be given to the Church, including Lev, who is their tenth child. Connor discovers his unwind order and decides to "kick AWOL", and tries to convince his friend Ariana to go with him. She agrees but later backs out, and he runs off alone with the help of a trucker. However, his cell phone tracker gets him caught. Connor resists arrest and flees the Juvey-cops, running into traffic and snatching a tithe (Lev) from a car to use as a hostage and human shield. The chaos which ensues causes a bus full of State Home wards (StaHo kids) on their way to the harvest camp to overturn, and provides Risa with the perfect opportunity to escape. Risa, Connor, and Lev flee into the woods, and are pursued briefly by a Juvey-cop, whom Connor shoots with the officer's own tranquilizer gun after he is baited by Risa.

The next morning, while gathering supplies, the three come across a storked baby on a doorstep nearby. Because of a past experience, Connor can't just pass by, and puts them all at risk by picking up the baby in plain view of a cop car cruising nearby. The three get on a school bus to blend in and hide out in the school bathroom with the baby. Lev takes his chance to escape, because as a tithe, he believes that it is an honor to be unwound, and he goes to the school office to turn in the others. He calls his pastor after he's done so, who tells him he helped keep their faces out of the paper so Lev could be free. Astonished by this sudden change, Lev pulls the fire alarm to help Connor and Risa escape from the incoming cops.

Connor and Risa attempt to hide, but are discovered by a teacher, Hannah, who helps them to escape the school and tells them to go to an antique store and ask for Sonia, who will help them. The store is a safe house, where they stay for a few days before the Ice Cream man comes to pick them up and shuttle them to another house in the chain. Before they leave, Sonia has them and the other kids, Roland, Mai, and Hayden, write letters to their loved ones about how they felt about being ordered to be unwound and said she would mail them if they didn't come to collect it a year after their eighteenth birthdays, when they would be safe from unwinding. Hannah comes to say goodbye and take the baby, whom she and her husband have decided to adopt and claim as their own. The escaped children are eventually taken to a holding area, a big warehouse by an airport.

Lev, in the meantime, has also managed to escape and has met up with a kid named Cy-Fi who claims not to be a runaway, but is headed to Joplin, Missouri because 1/8 of his brain, the right temporal lobe which he got from an unwound youth instead of bits and parts like it's usually done, would take over his mind at times and he needed peace. Cy-Fi teaches Lev some street smarts along the way, and Lev helps him and the unwound kid inside him get closure.

At the warehouse, Risa begins to understand the games Roland is playing in breaking up any groups of kids that might be a threat to him. She tries to make Connor understand and stay calm, as a fight between the two of them is looming since Connor appears to be the next biggest threat to Roland. Connor takes her words to heart and isn't baited by Roland when he attempts to rape Risa in the bathroom. Shortly after, they are all taken to the Graveyard, an aircraft graveyard, which is their final destination and where they will remain until they reach the age of eighteen and are safe.

A former admiral is in charge of the airplane graveyard and assigns the children to work detail where they can best be used. Connor becomes a mechanic and Risa becomes a medic, while Roland learns to fly a helicopter from Cleaver, the only other adult who knows about the kids. Roland starts up his trouble anew, spreading stories about the Admiral to sow dissent and to make himself the new leader. Connor ends up on the Admiral's side as a spy, and when a number of the higher up kids are killed, they investigate, believing Roland to be responsible. A short time in, Lev arrives, tougher than before, and joins a secret group that wants to damage Unwind facilities rather than just live out to age eighteen and then leave the camp.

The Admiral has a heart attack during a riot caused by doubts sown by Roland, even though he is not there to direct it and take over. Connor brings things under control and gets Roland and Risa to come with him to fly the Admiral to a hospital, knowing they will likely be caught. They are taken away to a harvest camp, where Risa unwillingly joins the band which plays at the unwinding and death of each child.

Lev is at the camp as well, having turned himself in after becoming a clapper, a suicide bomber who has been injected with a liquid explosive triggered by clapping hard enough. Roland is unwound due to his blood type being high on demand. Just as Connor is about to be unwound, the other two clappers, Blaine and Mai, who are at the camp with Lev, detonate their explosives at his request. He intends to join them, but at the last minute changes his mind, determined to pull out unwound youth from the wreckage and save Connor. He succeeds, then turns himself to the police.

Back at the hospital, Connor and Risa unite again. Connor's injuries made him the unwilling recipient of a new eye, and an arm that formerly belonged to Roland, which he can tell from the shark tattoo on the arm. The nurse gives Connor a fake ID previously belonging to a guard killed in the explosion to save him from unwinding. Risa refuses treatment despite being paralyzed from the waist down, and saves herself that way as well, as disabled people cannot be unwound. Lev is saved by the explosive fluid in him, which is slowly being removed from his bloodstream.

Risa and Connor return to the Graveyard to run it because the Admiral is too weak, having refused to take a new heart from an Unwind. They promise to begin fighting against harvesting. The story ends with a party at the Admiral's house, celebrating the birthday of his son, whom he and his wife unwittingly had unwound. All the people who received parts from his son attend, bringing him entirely there.

At the end of the book, Connor becomes the new Admiral for the Graveyard. This book has a sequel which is titled Unwholly.


  • Connor Lassiter (the "Akron AWOL") is a sixteen-year-old whose parents signed the unwind order because of his constant fighting and getting thrown out of several schools. His escape and shooting of the Juvey Cop with his own tranquilizer gun creates a legend about the Akron AWOL, with stories that continue to become more elaborate with each telling. Connor doesn't admit to being the Akron AWOL until Roland discovers it at the harvest camp. Connor changes from being an uncontrolled fighter to a person who contains their rage enough to rationalize and see what's hidden in many dangerous situations. They find an unexpected loyalty to the Admiral, the leader of a runaway unwind camp where they are staying, when they discover the bodies of The Goldens, some of the Admiral's favorite Unwinds.
  • Risa Ward is a fifteen-year-old teenage resident at a StaHo (State Home) orphanage in Ohio. She became a ward of the state home when her parents "storked" her directly after she was born. Risa is a very skilled piano player, but was scheduled to be unwound to cut orphanage costs and because the orphanage felt she had already met her full potential. During a private conference with the headmaster, she feels like "her membership in the human race was just revoked." Risa is also extremely smart, resourceful, and tough girl who can take good care of herself. During their escape she manages to get food, clothes, and to get out of many sticky situations. She is very good at taking care of young babies and wounds. She becomes a medic in the Graveyard because of her experiences at the orphanage. Risa sees a great change in Connor when she helps him control his emotions and to think rationally about the situation instead of just fighting.
  • Levi "Lev" Jedediah Calder is, at thirteen, the youngest of ten children. He is described as angelic, with blond hair and blue eyes. Unlike Connor and Risa, Lev has a good relationship with his family. They are a very religious family and very loving towards each other. Unfortunately, however, as the tenth child in the family Lev is a "tithe," which means that he is slated to be unwound as a religious sacrifice. Lev's family gives ten percent of everything—including their children—as a sacrifice to the church. At the beginning of the novel, Lev understands his role as a tithe and is willing to give himself for unwinding.He always knew that he would be unwound, and understood that it was his life purpose. On his way to the harvest camp, however, Lev is abducted by Connor. The events which follow cause Lev to question every aspect of his life, especially his unwinding. As the story continues, Levi begins to feel that his parents love God more than they love him, which causes him to feel more and more hatred towards his family for wanting to tithe him. He also starts to steal things and begins to trust others. He is also shown to be clever and honorable when he bargains a diamond bracelet for money. His honorable quality keeps him alive at the end of the story.
  • Cyrus "CyFi" Finch age 15, is introduced just after Lev is separated from Risa and Connor. This character helps Lev learn to scavenge for food in the food courts of malls. Not much is known about him at first, other than he's a proud Umber. "Umber" is explained in the book as a word invented to describe blacks. The inventor of the word was "this artist dude - mixed-race himself, a little bit of this, a little bit of that". CyFi explains that the artist painted darker skin tones with a paint named "Umber," and that "it just stuck". Later on, the reader learns that CyFi was originally a storked child who was taken in by two fathers. Unlike Connor, Risa, and Lev, CyFi is not an Unwind. Rather, he ran away from his family because the thoughts from an Unwind's temporal lobe, which he received after a car accident, spontaneously took over his own thoughts. Because part of his brain once belonged to an Unwind, CyFi considers himself one-eighth Tyler, the Unwind, and seven-eighths himself. He describes himself as an ancestor of the 'Deep South' - this later shows the reader the difference/changing between Cyrus and Tyler. Tyler was Unwound because of his constant stealing, and we learn that the part of his brain that he is alive in, Tyler does not understand that he is no longer living in his own body. CyFi's case is unusual because brain transplants are normally done with tiny pieces from multiple donors. However, CyFi's fathers paid off a doctor to acquire one full piece of the temporal lobe. This helps CyFi maintain his high IQ, but also results in compulsive orders from the donor. Cyrus constantly fights between the disorder he is now dealing with (kleptomania) and being himself. Also, because of the portion of the brain he received, he often feels Tyler's emotions and, on rare occasions, swears he can actually even see the boy in the mirror.
  • "The Admiral" is a man who used to work for what remained of the United States Navy during the Heartland War, giving runaway unwinds a safe haven in an airplane junkyard from the "Juvey Cops". It is revealed that he is in fact Admiral Dunfee, father of the supposed myth of Humphrey Dunfee, an unwind whose parents went insane and killed the people that had their son's pieces in order to make him whole again. In actuality, he was a good, though fierce, person who was determined to have each person who received a part of "Humphrey" Dunfee in one place to see his son again, though not technically together in one body.
  • Roland is a boy Connor and Risa encounter. Roland has a tiger shark tattoo on his arm, and he and Connor clash on many occasions, since both of them like to run things their way and have strong personalities. Roland is malicious and doesn't seem very smart, but this is actually a ploy in order to have things go his way more often- in actuality he manipulates situations in order to get what he wants. He tried to force Risa to like him but failed. He was unwound before Clappers destroyed the "Chop Shop". After being unwound, Connor, not having a choice, receives his arm with the tiger shark tattoo. Connor swears never to touch, or hurt Risa with that arm, but Risa does not take this promise into account, saying that it is not Roland's arm anymore as Roland would never be as kind and gentle as Connor could be.
  • Hayden is a boy Connor and Risa encounter along with Roland and Mai in Sonia's basement. He is described as "... a lanky blond kid with a faint smirk that seems permanently fixed on his face. He has braces on teeth that don't appear to need them." Connor guesses that he is probably a kid that comes from wealth, which is later confirmed when they each share how they ended up in Sonia's basement. Hayden's parents, extremely wealthy, went through a divorce and decided to have him unwound, rather than the other parent having custody of him. It isn't always clear whether Hayden is being sarcastic or serious, and he tends to make philosophical, "intelligent" comments. Connor also notes that he enjoys thinking "dangerous" thoughts. After they leave Sonia's basement, Connor next sees him when they are transferred to crates on the way to the runaway unwind camp. Connor entrusts him to take charge of the camp near the climax while Connor goes to deal with more trivial manners. At the end, he is seen running the unwind camp alongside Connor and Risa.
  • Mai is an Asian girl Connor and Risa encounter along with Roland and Hayden in Sonia's basement. She is described to be "nearly as tough-looking as Roland". She is known for her deeply dyed pink hair and spiked collar. Mai is feisty. She has a black eye, indicating that she must have gotten into fights - however, her parents are Unwinding her because they had too many girls in the family, she being the last one, before they finally got the son that she wanted. She hates the world, and eventually follows Cleaver's lead. She helps kill The Goldens after they bury her soulmate, Vincent, with no respect and eventually becomes a clapper, detonating herself alongside Blaine in the "Chop Shop" right before Connor is sent to be unwound.
  • Emby, also called the "Mouth Breather", is a boy Connor and Hayden first talk to on their way to the graveyard in a crate. He is called Mouth Breather because he tends to "wheeze" out of his mouth most of the time due to his asthma. It is revealed that Emby has the lung of The Admiral's Son, causing The Admiral to take Emby away to his home in Texas. Emby tends to freak out when he's scared which causes his asthma to act up and Connor has said that Emby tends to read the same comic over and over.
  • Amp is one of the five Goldens. We find out his name when Risa explains that "they are quick to find out that the megaphone kid has earned the nickname Amp." Later in the story we find out that Amp and the other four Goldens die of suffocation by Mai, Cleaver, and Blaine to hit the Admiral where it hurts. They also do this because the Goldens paid no respects to Vincent, Mai's supposed soulmate (who died in the same crate as the Goldens did).
  • Sonia is an older lady that Conner and Risa were told to go to for help. She held them in the basement of her Antique shop. Hannah is a teacher at the high school and tells them to go to Sonia. Sonia's shop is one of many shops and houses that keep unwind AWOLS, and after a while there they go to another "safe house" and stay until they can get on a plane to go to the "Graveyard".


Shusterman says that the idea for Unwind came to him when he heard a news story about a scientist who claims that, "within our lifetime, 100% of the human body will be viable for transplant", reports about rioting teenagers in Britain, and reports about how strongly people feel on either side of the issue of abortion. Unwind is a novel that imagines not a technological future, but a sociological future.

Film adaptation[edit]

In 2010, the film rights to Unwind were sold to Tasty Films and ContagionFilm. Casting has yet to begin, but as of April 15, 2012, the film has moved into the early stages of pre-production. Novel-author Neal Shusterman drafted the screenplay. On December 9, 2012, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Constantin Film had picked up the film rights to the whole series.[3]

Critical reception[edit]

  • The New York Times reviewer Ned Vizzini gave an approving review, claiming that "the power of the novel lies in what it doesn't do: come down explicitly on one side or the other."[4]
  • VOYA also gave a positive review: "The novel follows three protagonists who are attempting to 'kick-AWOL' and survive to eighteen to escape their unwindings: Connor, the rebellious teen; Risa, a ward of the state being unwound because of budget cuts; and Lev, a tithe born as an unwind sacrifice. The novel asks two questions: When does a life have value? Who determines whether it is worth keeping? Unfortunately who is unwound and who gets which 'parts' is often determined by socio-economic status. In addition, parents seem to shamelessly unwind their children for typical teen frustration and rebellion. Betrayal by parents and the system is a horrifying truth for the protagonists. As such, there are many passages that are difficult to read either for their heartrending nature or their shocking specifics, particularly the detailed 'harvest' of a well-known character. Poignant, compelling, and ultimately terrifying, this book will enjoy popularity with a wide range of readers beyond its science-fiction base."[citation needed]
  • The School Library Journal gave Unwind a STARRED REVIEW: "…There is evenhanded, thoughtful treatment of many issues, including when life starts and stops, consciousness, religion, free will, law, trust and betrayal, suicide bombers, and hope. Initially, the premise of parents dismantling their children is hard to accept; however, readers are quickly drawn into the story, which is told in a gripping, omniscient voice. Characters live and breathe; they are fully realized and complex, sometimes making wrenchingly difficult decisions. This is a thought-provoking, well-paced read that will appeal widely, especially to readers who enjoy Scott Westerfeld's Uglies (2005)…"[citation needed]
  • TeensReadToo.com also provided a favorable review: "In his chilling new novel, Neal Shusterman paints a picture of a world where there aren't any cures and doctors, just surgeons and replacements. Three unwanted teenagers face a fate worse than death—unwinding. Their bodies will be cut up, and every part of them used, from their brains to their toes. But if they can stay out of the authorities' clutches until the age of eighteen, they just might survive.... The most frightening science fiction novels are always the ones that are most similar to our world. Shusterman doesn't fail to describe how a wrong solution to a modern issue can affect generations to come. Thought-provoking, terrifying, and almost inconceivable, UNWIND will keep you reading late into the night."[citation needed]


A sequel, entitled UnWholly, was released on August 26, 2012. A third installment, titled UnSouled, was released on October 15, 2013. The book series is a dystology of four books. The last book is Undivided and was published on October 14, 2014.[5]

A novella entitled UnStrung, written by Neāl Shusterman and Michelle Knowlden, was released on July 24, 2012. UnStrung is a companion story, set within Unwind and follows the events that led Lev to become a clapper. The story picks up shortly after Lev and CyFi part ways, as he finds himself on a Native American (or ChanceFolk) reservation. UnStrung was later collected in UnBound, a collection of short stories and novellas, which was released on December 15, 2015.


  1. ^ "unwind". unwindmovie.com. Retrieved 2016-05-10.
  2. ^ Shusterman, Neal. "What's new in 2011?", Neal Shusterman's Blog, March 9, 2011, accessed June 30, 2011.
  3. ^ "'Unwind' Sci-Fi YA Novel to Be Adapted for Big Screen". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2016-05-10.
  4. ^ Vizzini, Ned (2008-03-16). "Unwind - Neal Shusterman - Book Review". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-05-10.
  5. ^ "Series Watch: The Unwind Trilogy". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 17 September 2012.

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