Now that the kittens in my brain are sleeping, I have to admit, this was far from perfect. There are conflicts of human behavior and logic that will throw some readers off, but I simply cannot deny how easy it was for me to get with the Neal Shusterman program and enjoy this ride. I was very reluctant to pick this up because the premise has similarities with Never Let Me Go and that sent me into a spiral of depression without the help of the holiday season. If not picked as a group's monthly buddy read, I probably wouldn't have read this.
I am so very glad I did.
There's an underlying theme of hope, faith and kickassery told in a pace so relentless in its intensity that comes along with that sickening feeling of not being able to read the pages fast enough. Why so slow brain?!?!
THE HEARTLAND WARS
As a means to satisfy the warring poles of the Second Civil War (pro-life vs pro-choice), The Bill of Life is passed. Which expressly forbids the termination of life from the moment of conception until they reach the age of reason. Simply put, parents can retroactively abort a child between the age of thirteen and eighteen through the lawful and widespread process of Unwinding, where all the child's viable tissue are harvested and made available as transplant material to those who are financially able and in need. It is a business and sociological structure resting on the moral belief system that the child's life does not end upon harvesting but continues on with each of his/her parts recipient.
Unwinds didn't go out with a bang - they didn't even go out with a whimper. They went out with the silence of a candle flame pinched between two fingers.
Connor, Risa and Lev are all facing that possibility. Connor is sent by his parents to be unwound because he's a "troubled" kid (it was very vague, he seems to just like getting into fights and cutting classes). Risa is a ward of the state who, despite being a talented pianist is not talented enough to not get sent to Harvest Camp. And Lev is a tithe, raised to be unwound when he reaches the age, under the belief that such purpose is noble and blessed by God. Their paths cross and uncross as they set out to escape this inevitability, meeting other Unwinds along their path to survival.
FLAMES, JESUS AND KANYE
What I liked most about Shusterman's narrative is that it sparks with kinetic energy. Its very reminiscent of the unrelenting pace of my Shadow and Bone reading experience The writing was very economical, every scene adds to the building and the setting of the social and philosophical themes of this speculative world. There's no dialogue wasted, no plot twist sprung for shock's sake. It's amazing how many points of contention and perspectives on the moral and ethical issues of life, sentience and the concept of the soul this touched on. There were also moments touching on the purpose-driven life, nihilism, family, religion... all without going hammer on the head or pushing any agendas. Like a hand dancing across the flames.
Even though Hayden has put the candle down, all this talk of unwinding is just like passing his hand across the flame. He likes to linger at the edges of dangerous places. Dangerous thoughts.
This makes you ask the uncomfortable questions but Shusterman hits you with these heavy issues with grace and brevity: deep enough to sting but quickly so as not to leave you scarred. Much. Its up to you to discover what kind of answers will let you sleep better at night without judgment.
Connor was an interesting hero because of his juvenile fallibility and Risa is the strong heroine I've been wondering about, the one who is a badass without being an assassin or a queen or a special snowflake. But its Lev's complexity, depth and sheer unique conflict that won me over.
For lack of an apt metaphor imagine Jesus Christ suddenly realizing there's no God on his way to the cross then meeting Osama bin Laden in the bar while he gets drunk over daddy issues (I may just go to hell because of that).
Enough to overlook the questionable logic behind parents signing off their children to be unwound just because they hate school (Lev's parents I can force my imagination to accept, Connor's, Roland and Hayden's? This side of a stretch.). Speaking of, given that this was a big part of the logic behind the Bill of Life, I suspect the sheer likability of the secondary characters may also have something to do with this book working for me. Everyone had a redeeming piece (pun intended) in them, even Roland but most especially CyFi who went to The Kanye West School of Swag.
"It's like art, you know? Picasso had to prove to the world he can paint the right way, before he goes putting both eyes on one side of a face, and noses stickin' outta kneecaps and stuff. See if you can paint wrong because that's the best you can do, you just a chump. But you do it because you want to? Then you're an artist."
I could pick out all the wrongs this book had, question the medicine and science behind Humphrey Dunfee's party and gripe about the implausibility of such delusion ensnaring as big a population as the world.
Or I could just rate it based on how much I enjoyed this brilliant piece (again, pun) of fiction.