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Book Review: UnSouled by Neal Shusterman (Series, #3) (Audiobook narrated by Luke Daniels)

February 9, 2016 Leave a comment

Book Review: UnSouled by Neal Shusterman (Series, #3) (Audiobook narrated by Luke Daniels)Summary:
Connor and Lev are on the run from the Juvenile Authority but for once they’re running to something. Or rather, someone. They’re looking for a woman Proactive Citizenry has tried to erase from history, hoping she’ll have some answers about just how the world got to be the way it is.  Meanwhile, Cam, the rewound boy, is plotting to take Proactive Citizenry down in the hopes of winning the heart of Risa.

Review:
This entry in the series really fizzled for me with the far-fetched ideas and shaky execution of a complex plot finally becoming too much for me to really enjoy the story.

On the one hand, this book is more of the same. There’s multiple characters in vastly different situations who will clearly all come together at some point in a convergence that should read like fate but oftentimes just reads as too convenient. On the other hand, the action this time is interspersed with some flashbacks to the scientist who discovered unwinding, and how it went from something to be used to save lives to something to keep adolescents in line. This plot was interesting, but its reveal was awkwardly handled. The flashbacks are from the perspectives of the scientists, just as we switch around among the perspectives of the teens in the story, rather than letting them naturally discover what happened.  It’s a change that could have been used to build up more tension and excitement but instead just makes the pace awkward and changes the feel of the story from one told primarily by teens to one routinely interfered with by adult perspective.

The big reveal of how unwinding came to be failed to really strike a chord with me, and I believe this is partially because it’s still a bit unclear to me as to who exactly the big bad is. I do think it’s interesting that basically unwinding came to be because big business was trying to protect their investment in health care. I appreciate the angle of how health care needs to be more than just a business. However, I question the supposed solution for unwinding offered at the end of the book. I feel it is just more big business.

Overall, this book continued the issues with the second book, only more so. Too many plots that conveniently intersect and confusion over what exactly is going on in the world.  Additionally, the far-fetched elements that challenged my ability to suspend disbelief in the first two books become at the center of the big overarching plot of the series. Given both of these issues, I will not be continuing reading the series, although I am glad that I read the first book, as it is an interesting and unique dystopian YA world. It’s just one that went off the rails a bit.  This entry is recommended to those readers who simply must know how unwinding came to be and how the characters plan to stop it.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series:
Unwind, review
UnWholly, review

Book Review: UnWholly by Neal Shusterman (Series, #2) (Audiobook narrated by Luke Daniels)

October 21, 2015 1 comment

Book Review: UnWholly by Neal Shusterman (Series, #2) (Audiobook narrated by Luke Daniels)Summary:
Picking up where Unwind left off, UnWholly finds Risa and Connor managing the Graveyard full of unwinds themselves with no adults in site, and Lev struggling to find a purpose now that he’s both free of clapper chemicals and under the watchful eye of the government.  Into the mix comes Cam, the first ever “rewind.”  He’s been assembled completely from the parts of unwinds of every race and religion.  And his creator intends to meddle with the runaway unwinds too.

Review:
I picked this up right after finishing the first on audiobook, because finding a fast-paced story with a good narrator can be harder than it sounds.  So once I found that with the first book in the series and I saw the rest of it had the same narrator, I figured I may as well continue along with it.  While I found the first book engaging and thought-provoking, I found myself periodically bored with the plot in this one, and also found it more difficult to suspend my disbelief than before.

The basic premise is that Connor is all torn up over having the arm of his once-rival (who also just so happened to threaten to rape his girlfriend, Risa).  He thus holds Risa at arm’s-length (pun intended) because he’s afraid of what his own arm will do.  While I appreciate the fact that it must be truly atrocious for your boyfriend to now have your attempted rapist’s arm, I think the fact that Connor lends the arm so much agency is a symptom of one particular idea in this world-building that just doesn’t work for me.  The idea that body parts have their own spark of soul or agency or thought.  It’s rife in this entry in the series, and it’s just plain weird to me.  I can understand a character not bonding with a transplant that was forced upon him. I can understand it being weird for loved ones.  I don’t, however, find myself able to suspend my disbelief enough to believe that someone’s arm has their personality in it so much that the person who it was transplanted onto would be afraid of it.  It’s an arm, not a piece of brain or even a heart. The author does provide links to sources about transplant recipients feeling connected to the person whose body part they received or having memories or what have you.  I appreciate that.  But for me personally this plot point just does not work.  Other readers may be able to suspend their disbelief better than I was able to.  I for once can’t imagine not going near my own girlfriend because I was afraid of my arm.  I also just disliked how much agency Connor removes from himself for his own temper.  If he hits the wall when he’s angry it’s not him hitting the wall, it’s the arm hitting the wall.  The arm got mad. The arm got out of control.  There’s just a ridiculous lack of agency there, and I’m not super comfortable with that level of lack of agency being in a book marketed toward teenagers, who are at the best point in life for learning agency and responsibility.

I similarly have a hard time believing, from a neurological perspective, that the rewind boy, Cam, could exist.  His brain is dozens’ of peoples all wound together.  I could believe replacing a brain piece here or there with transplant technology, I couldn’t believe mish-mashing many together and having them actually function.  Let alone with the only issue being that Cam struggles to learn to speak in words instead of metaphors.  While Cam did strike me as grotesque, he mostly just struck me as an impossibility that I was then supposed to have sympathy for because he’s a person with his own feelings…but are they really?  The whole thing was just a bit too bizarre for me.

On a related note, I found the scenes where Cam wakes up and learns to talk and slowly realizes what he is to be very tedious to read.  They move slowly, and there is an attempt at building of suspense, but it is clear nearly immediately that Cam is a Frankenstein’s creature like experiment, even without Cam himself knowing it right away.

The other big new character is Starkey, a boy who was storked who is brought into the Graveyard.  He’s basically exactly the same as Connor (he’s even still a white boy), the only difference being that was a stork and that he has no Risa to ease down his temper.  I found his characterization to be uncreative, even if the building up of strife between the storks and the rest of the unwinds was a good plot point.  It would have been better if the leader of the storks was more creative.  Similarly, Starkey’s two main assistants are a black girl and an Indian-American boy.  Just as with the first book, non-white people exist, but only as seconds to the white people.  Why couldn’t either of them have been the leader of the storks?

All of these things said, there was still a lot of plot to keep the interest.  I’ve barely touched on a couple of them.  The world is still engaging, even if it’s hard to suspend the disbelief for it.  I doubt I’d keep reading if I was reading this in print, but the audiobook narration makes it feel like listening to a movie, and it’s the perfect match for my commutes and doing dishes and such.  Plus, now I’m curious as to where else the plot will go.  I’m betting it will end up going in a direction I find it even harder to suspend my disbelief for, but it’ll be a fun ride seeing where that is.

Overall, fans of the first book may be disappointed by the slightly more meandering plot in this one.  The addition of two new characters to follow will be distracting to some readers while others will find it adds to the interest and suspense.  Some readers may be turned off by the continued lack of diversity in such a large cast of protagonists.  The plot is engaging and the world is unique, though, so fans of YA dystopian scifi will probably still enjoy it.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series:
Unwind, review

Book Review: Unwind by Neal Shusterman (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Luke Daniels)

September 29, 2015 8 comments

Book Review: Unwind by Neal Shusterman (Audiobook narrated by Luke Daniels)Summary:
In the near future, the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life debate explodes into a war called the Heartland War.  The only way the war could reach a peace was to come to an agreement.  There would be no abortion but when children are between the ages of 13 and 17 their parents can sign an order to have them unwound.  New scientific technology allows doctors to transplant all of a person’s body parts.  They will then “live on” in a “divided state.”  Teens whose parents choose to sign an unwind order for them are rounded up by juvie cops and brought to Harvest Camps to await their fate.  Some families, particularly from fundamentalist branches of all faiths, believe in tithing 10% of their children, and will have a child simply to raise them to be a tithe.  Additionally, many children end up unwanted and living in State Homes, where they are all given the last name of Ward–for ward of the state.

Connor is a light-hearted bad boy who just accidentally found his own unwind orders in his parents’ desk and immediately goes on the run.  Lev is a tithe who is on his way to Harvest Camp.  Risa is a ward of the state, and she is on a bus to be unwound, because she isn’t deemed exceptional enough to justify her upkeep.  A series of events throws them into each other’s lives and leaves whether or not they will be unwound in question.

Review:
This was recommended to me years ago, but when I first read the description I was skeptical that the book was anything but Pro-Life propaganda.  Years later I decided to check it out again, and most reviews mentioned how neutral the book was.  Additionally, I read some interviews with the author where he stated he genuinely was trying to present a neutral story that analyzes some tough questions, so I thought I would give it a shot.  Ultimately, the author has succeeded at creating a future world that is fascinating to visit and that also analyzes medical ethics in a creative way.  I would honestly say the book is much more about medical ethics, particularly in regards to transplants, than it really is about abortion rights.

The basic plot is that three very different teenagers are supposed to be unwound but then find themselves on the run instead of actually at Harvest Camp.  The book is in the third person but from the limited perspective of one character, and that one character switches around.  It is predominantly Connor, Risa, or Lev, but it is also sometimes someone like a juvie cop or a parent.  Sometimes this narrative structure works really well, providing many different perspectives on the same event or issue.  Other times it feels too contrived.  The perspective switches at just the right moment to keep the reader in the dark, or to reveal something we wouldn’t otherwise know.  Sometimes this structure builds suspense and other times it kind of ruins it.  Overall, though, I enjoyed the structure and found that the multiple perspectives really added to the world and the story.

This narrative structure is enhanced by clippings from real, modern-day newspaper articles and blogs, as well as fake advertisements and news from the future the book is set in.  Partially due to the Audible narrator, who did a fantastic job at the ads, I really enjoyed these snippets of media from the future.  They are very tongue-in-cheek and adult, but will still appeal to teens reading the book for their over-the-topness.  I found the modern day news articles to be less interesting, and mostly felt a bit like scare mongering.  They read as a bit heavy-handed in pushing the “this could really happen!” angle.

I did find it a bit frustrating that all three of the main characters are white and straight.  While it is acknowledged that a few people (primarily adults) could be GLBTQ, the assumed norm is straight and cis, no matter what social organization is in control.  Whether it’s mainstream society, rebels, or anyone in-between. The norm is always straight cis.  Similarly, while the author does include non-white people to a much greater degree than non-straight/non-cis people  (there are a wide variety of ethnicities and religions represented in the society), they are all secondary characters.  One thing that really stuck out to me was that at one point in the book we meet a Chinese-American girl who is being unwound because her parents wanted a son, and they just kept trying until they got one and then picked a daughter to unwind, because they couldn’t afford all the kids.  She’s also got an interesting punk aesthetic to her.  What an interesting main character she would have been!  Can you imagine her in the role of Connor? They are both running away from being unwound, and she could easily have taken that main character role.  It just bothers me when a book has three main characters who are all in a similar situation due to society-wide problems, and yet they are so non-diverse, with just a nod at gender by having one female character.

With regards to the female character, Risa, I must say I was very disappointed to have one plot point be an attempted rape of her, and her then being saved by a male character.  First, we only get one female main character and then she naturally is almost raped.  Then naturally she must be saved by someone else.  The whole scene sickened me, especially when I thought about teen girls reading it.  It was just a completely unnecessary plot point.  I once read an article that talked about how often rape scenes (or attempted rape scenes) are a sign of lack of creativity. I don’t think all of them are, but this one certainly came across that way.  Unnecessary and a convenient plot point without thought to how it would affect the readers.

In spite of these characterization and style complaints though, the plot is very good, and the world is fascinating.  Characters in a natural manner talk about and explore the ethics of life, when life begins, and who has the right to life, as well as who has the right to end it.  The plot is fast-paced, and I read as quickly as I could to find out what happened.  There are also a couple of twists at the end that rocked my socks off and left me immediately downloading the next book in the series.

All of that said, I have a few questions about the world that were never addressed.  First, if everyone who is unwound is between the ages of 13 and 17, how does that work out with transplantation?  People have not yet finished growing at 17, especially their minds.  Does this mean a 67 year old woman would have a 15 year old’s arm if she needed a transplant?  If so, that sounds very grotesque to me, and I wonder how society has learned to deal with something so mis-matched.  This isn’t particularly addressed, except to say that sometimes it’s weird to look at someone with two eyes that don’t match.  Similarly, the world at large isn’t really talked about at all.  The kids who are trying to escape being unwound don’t even consider running into another country but they never explain why.  How has the world at large reacted to the United States’ new law? Is there any country that would be a safe-haven for unwinds?  Are there other countries following suit?  The international impact is woefully underaddressed.

In spite of these various shortcomings, the plot and the world still sucked me in.  It was a quick read that left me wanting more.

Overall, fans of dystopian ya looking for another series to whet their appetite will definitely enjoy this one.  It’s a completely different dystopia from most of the ones that are already big, and I am sure YA readers who are currently teens themselves will find the idea of their parents being able to sign an unwind order on them chilling.  Dystopian YA fans should definitely give this one a go.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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