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The officials in Unwind, who are maybe even more incompetent than real-life Congresspersons, take their governing style from Missy Elliott songs. They've made a law saying it's okay to put your thang down, flip it, and reverse it, but their execution of this law, which they call the Bill of Life, is sloppier than the sloppiest sloppy joe.There's no way to create legislation that would satisfy everyone, and yet they try. The futility of it is almost enough to make you have sympathy for these blowhards. Emphasis on the almost.
See, Unwind is the story of three teens—Connor, Risa, and Lev—who for some reason or another, are due to be unwound, which is basically a weird, sci-fi retroactive abortion. Yes, you read that right. In this world, all pre-birth abortions are illegal, but a child can be "unwound" between the ages of 13 and 18 for any reason. What does it mean to be unwound? Well, it means that the teen's body and brain are dismantled and preserved as an organ transplant for someone else. It's like recycling, but with people.
Neal Shusterman published Unwind in 2007. Since then, there's been no going back. The book stood alone for five years, before being followed up by UnWholly (2012), UnSouled (2013), and UnDivided (2014), as well as a digital short, UnStrung (2012), all of which make up the Unwind Dystology. No, we can't define dystology, but it doesn't sound pretty.
Shusterman is the author of more than two dozen novels, most for young adults, so he's no stranger to Unwind's difficult themes of adoption, identity, and even race and religion. Unwind even received one of the United States' highest honors—being banned or challenged in 2009-2010. Shusterman's book raises more questions about the dicey issues it tackles than it offers up answers, so get ready for an argument or two. So grab a copy of Unwind and enter the debate…before you get unwound.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
We can't think of a book that is more explicitly political than Unwind. (Its alternate title—Hey Guys, Let's Talk About Abortion!—was deemed too long to fit on the spine of the book.) The premise is absurd, but it makes you wonder if there could ever be a logical decision that would end this contentious debate. Neal Shusterman packs the book with questions about abortion, identity, religion, race, adoption, gay marriage, and littering, so you will never run out of things to argue about, nor will you find two people with the exact same opinions about everything in this book.
What makes Unwind quite contrary (in a way that Mary Mary never was) is its lack of answers. While the book is firmly anti-Unwinding, that answers no real-life questions because unwinding doesn't exist, won't exist, and could never possibly exist. But for all those other real life debates, the ones that affect our lives every single day, there are no answers.
So maybe the biggest question of all is, do any answers actually exist? Looked at this way, Shusterman's book isn't political at all; it transcends petty arguments of politics and gets into a bigger realm of discussion, one that doesn't depend on sound bites and smear campaigns. So read Unwind, start an argument, look for answers, and just be glad you don't have to worry about being unwound.
Trouble in Paradise (a.k.a. Akron, Ohio)
Connor, our main protagonist, is a troublemaker from the first page to the last—he just learns to cause the right kind of trouble along the way.
At the beginning he's "a marked kid" (1.1.3), a sixteen-year-old who knows that he's going to be unwound. Why are his parents going to unwind him (and then go on vacation without him)? It seems to be simply because they're tired of dealing with his impulsive, troublemaking ways. He doesn't even seem to be a bad kid really, just one who acts out, maybe out of boredom or simple stupidity, not malice. Connor just isn't that tough—he says he "might act like the bad boy at school" (1.1.7), but when it comes to running away, he's not sure if he can do it.
As for running away, Connor's motivated by sheer desperation, brought on by a double dose of disappointment and betrayal. First his parents sign him up to be unwound, and then his girlfriend, Ariana, says she'll run away with him but decides not to at the last minute. Ugh.
On the Lam(b)
Connor's last name, Lassiter, is an Americanized version of Leicester, which, amongst other things, refers to sheep. Connor isn't exactly a follower, but he will never be accused of being the brains of any operation. We're told flat-out that "thinking ahead has never been one of Connor's strong points" (1.1.67), like when he almost dies to save Lev, a boy who doesn't even want to be saved. And when Connor takes the baby, even he acknowledges he has three modes: "Fight, Flight, and Screw Up Royally" (2.11.52). That's Connor in a nutshell.
He succeeds best at irritating others, like when he employs his trademark "Nice socks" (2.19.108; 4.27.20; 5.48.5) quip to distract and annoy cops, guards, or other authority figures that try to hinder his progress. Connor doesn't get along well with authority, but can you blame him? His parents have basically signed him away to be executed. So maybe authority isn't something he trusts.
When he teams up with Risa, he learns that he can accept others' leadership if that leadership happens to come from someone female and the same age as him. They're a good team, even though we're told "What [Connor] and Risa have isn't a relationship; it's just two people clinging to the same ledge hoping not to fall" (2.19.204). That sounds like a pretty solid definition of a relationship to us, but whether you agree or not, it's definitely a good reason to stick together.
Armed and Dangerous
Risa helps Connor survive until they get herded along (like sheep) to the Admiral's Graveyard, where they can toil away in safety until they're eighteen. Connor becomes a repairman, which is ironic since he seems to cause things to go wrong more often than not. And yet he can fix simple machines. Who knew?
This all goes horribly awry, though, as Connor is led by the Admiral to believe that his arch-nemesis, Roland, is plotting something. Roland is always plotting something, but Connor gets so obsessed with Roland, a boy whom is much more similar to Connor than he is different (check out his page in this section), that all heck breaks loose when he's not looking. Connor risks his life to save the Admiral, who is injured, proving the most accurate description of him to be true, when Hayden says, "You've got integrity […] even when you're being an ass" (5.34.7). Aw.
A series of unfortunate events leads Connor to the Happy Jack Harvest Camp, where his reputation as the Akron AWOL will get him unwound sooner rather than later. Connor's bad boy reputation has never done him any good, has it? After being horribly injured in an explosion, he's given the ID of Elvis Robert Mullard, a nineteen-year-old dead guard, which is a loophole saving him from being unwound. It's not all good news, though, because he also gets Roland's shark-tattooed arm to replace his mangled one, a reminder of his arch-enemy.
However, in the epilogue Connor has rebuilt the Graveyard and seems to be training an army for an uprising. Maybe in a sequel, Connor can become the man he has always wanted to be, instead of just a rebellious boy.
Risa Megan Ward
Play Us a Song, You're the Piano Girl
Risa is a piano playing orphan, or in other words, a ward of the state. Hence her last name, Ward. Her life is affected by fate so much that it seems like everything that happens to her is out of her control. First she's ordered unwound due to overcrowding in the state homes (StaHos). That's a bad thing. Then her bus crashes, which is a good thing because it allows her to escape.
At that point, Risa's fate becomes intertwined with Connor's. At first this is a disadvantage. As strong and smart and collected as Risa is, Connor is hotheaded and impulsive. But Risa stands her ground—when Connor grabs her, for instance, she snarls, "Touch me again and your arm gets ripped off" (1.7.25) (a bit of foreshadowing here, considering what happens to Connor's arm at the end of the book). And later, she takes care of the baby he takes off a stoop.
Perhaps because Risa doesn't have an identity of her own, she's good at deceiving people. She pretends to be Didi, a teen mom, in order to get food and clothes from people. But during the course of pretending to be a mom, she actually gets attached to the nameless baby. When a nice woman takes the baby to a home, "the moment the baby is out of her arms Risa feels a tremendous sense of relief, but also an indefinable sense of emptiness" (2.20.19). And that's only one of many sad losses in Risa's life.
Call the Medic
When Risa arrives at the Graveyard, she actually likes it. Unlike Connor, who is still looking for trouble at any moment, Risa is happy to have found her home. After all, this is the first place she actually can call home (unlike Connor, who never appreciates the home he has). She learns her piano hands are also adept at fixing wounds when she becomes the camp medic, keeping up an on-again off-again relationship with Connor as she mends injuries.
She's the voice of reason, trying to get Connor to cool his jets and trying to figure out exactly what, if anything, Lev is up to. However, fate intervenes, as it always does with Risa, and this time gets her swept up in an uprising, which leads her to being caught and transferred to Happy Jack Harvest Camp, where she is seriously injured in an explosion.
For Risa, though, this is a silver lining. Paralyzed, she can't be unwound. Also, she's only paralyzed from the waist down, leaving her hands free to play piano, which is her dream. Leave it to Risa to find hope in even the grimmest situation.
Levi "Lev" Jedediah Calder
Born to be Unwound
Like Anna in My Sister's Keeper, Lev was born to die. He's a tithe, which means his parents had ten children, with the intention of donating one child (a tenth of their belongings) to the church. In this case, this means they'll have Lev unwound. The religious nature of this gives Lev a cult-like focus. Check it:
This is what I was born for. It's what I've lived my life for. I am chosen. I am blessed. And I am happy. (1.3.68)
Lev has no problem dying, and he doesn't care if he takes anyone with him, either, which is kind of creepy. When Connor and Risa stop him from being unwound, Lev becomes focused on revenge: "He'll make sure they both get exactly what they deserve" (1.6.36). Yikes.
Run Through the Forest! Run!
Lev reevaluates his whole life's purpose (or in his case, his death's purpose) after his mentor, Pastor Dan, tells Lev to live. (The two words sound similar, don't they?) Lev realizes that Connor and Risa are his only friends, and he screwed up their lives, so he tries to make things up to them.
Along the way, Lev meets a boy named CyFi and gets his clothes dirty. These events are both significant. CyFi becomes a friend Lev doesn't turn on for a change, and his dirty clothes are quite symbolic.
All his life he'd worn white—a pristine absence of color that defined him—but now there was no comfort in wearing it. (3.21.63)
The absence of color seems to complement Lev's absence of personality, but as he starts to find his identity, his clothes get colored in, too.
Over time, Lev gains some street smarts and some self worth. He cheats a pawnbroker, and upon getting punched when reuniting with Connor, tells him, "Don't you ever hit me again, or you'll regret it" (5.34.75). Unlike Connor and Risa, Lev significantly changes from the beginning of the book to the end.
Speaking of The End
Lev still doesn't want to live. He goes from being a tithe to being a clapper, a form of suicide bomber. Remember how he said that he wanted to make sure Connor and Risa get exactly what they deserve? Well, Lev keeps his word, except at the end of the book he thinks they deserve to live.
Because Lev has had no fear of dying since birth, it's no surprise he goes the suicide bomber route. He plans on blowing up the Harvest Camp to save Connor and Risa. Unfortunately, Connor is led to be unwound before Lev anticipates, and Lev's partners, Mai and Blaine, blow themselves up, injuring Connor and Risa. This is the moment where Lev realizes it would serve his friends best if he, too, lived. He doesn't blow himself up, and he saves them, which in a way fulfills that savior complex he's had since the beginning.
Shark Boy Seeks Lava Girl
Connor and Risa meet Roland (no last name given) in the basement of the antiques shop that's part of the unwind Underground Railroad. Roland is set to be unwound because he beat up his stepfather for beating his mother, and then his mother ended up taking her man's side.
Being treated unfairly isn't anything new for an Unwind, though, and it earns Roland no sympathy; his obnoxious attitude makes Connor his enemy. He's manipulative, "a master of structuring life around him for his own benefit" (3.23.1), and always moving, because "big sharks don't last long in captivity" (2.19.100). What do sharks have to do with anything? Well, Roland has a big shark tattooed on his arm. And no one likes sharks, making it the perfect tattoo for the closest thing to a villain in this book.
Unwinds have terrible lives, so we're tempted to feel a smidge sorry for him—until he attempts to rape Risa in the bathroom at the Graveyard, a despicable move that he must have learned from his equally despicable stepfather. When that fails, he tries to turn everyone against the Admiral. We're not sure why. Maybe he thinks he can take over? This, too, backfires and although Roland has a moment to redeem himself by piloting a helicopter to the hospital, he turns them all in to the cops when he lands and gets them thrown in harvest camp. Smooth move, tiger shark.
Unable to let it go, Roland tries to kill Connor at the harvest camp, but can't do it: "Connor can't tell whether Roland is disappointed or relieved that he's not the killer he thought he was, but Connor suspects it's a little of both" (6.56.25). Maybe he refuses because, underneath the bully façade, Roland really is a nice guy? We'll never know. He's unwound, his body parts donated to science. We hope whoever gets his brain doesn't behave the way he did.
Admiral Dunfee is a former Navy man, a self-described "Fish out of water" (4.29.49), and in charge of the Graveyard. He brings unwinds there illegally and has them do work in exchange for keeping them safe until they turn eighteen. It's his way or the highway, and he calls his rules—including things like "You are better than those who would unwind you" (5.32.10), and "Make something of yourself" (5.32.20)—his Ten Demandments.
He never tells the kids why he's brought them to an airplane graveyard in the middle of the desert to save them, and because of his caginess, some of the kids (ahem, Roland) suspect that he's actually a butcher, having them secretly unwound and sold on the black market. One of Roland's reasons is that the Admiral has perfect teeth, which he suspects are unwind implants.
Roland couldn't be more wrong, though. The Admiral was actually one of the first people to have his child, Harlan, unwound, and he's felt guilty about it ever since. So the Graveyard is part penance—saving kids when he couldn't save his own—and part recovery program. Whenever he finds a kid with one of Harlan's body parts, he sends them to his home as part of a big family reunion of sorts. As he tells Connor, he is "making things right […] bit by bit" (5.34.225). Literally.
After having traditional heart surgery (declining an organ from an Unwind), the Admiral returns home and is reunited with all the people who possess a part of his son. His good deeds pay off.
Cyrus "CyFi" Finch
Umber is the New Black
CyFi is a teen that helps Lev when Lev finds himself on the run. CyFi defines words like Lemony Snicket ("Solace—that means 'comfort'" (3.21.3)) and knows how to get people to give him food, so he doesn't have to root through trash. At fifteen, CyFi is two years Lev's senior, and calls him "Fry," as in small-fry.
While Shusterman doesn't get into race relations too much in this installment of the series, we learn that "Umber" is the new word for black people in this world, and no one seems to bat an eye when they discover that CyFi has two dads, not even super-religious Lev.
What CyFi really does is give us a look at the, well, sci-fi aspect of the book—the Unwind procedure, and specifically its effects on the people who receive organs. CyFi receive his "entire temporal lobe" (3.21.47) from an Unwind named Tyler. As a result, Tyler sometimes takes over, like Melanie Stryder in The Host. CyFi is traveling to Joplin, Missouri, Tyler's home, hoping to get some sort of solace and stop the little kleptomaniac from hijacking his brain and forcing him to steal things.
Lev helps CyFi, appalled when they arrive that Tyler's parents feel like they're the victims. We learn at the end that CyFi testifies before Congress about changing parts of the Unwind act. Maybe when they see how a beneficiary can become a victim, things will change.
Clap On, Clap Off…Forever
The Clappers are a band of suicide bombers who don't live for the applause, they die for it. We know very little about them. They're the Occupy Main Street of terrorist movements, and have no clear message: "The threat of clappers is so effective because no one knows what they really stand for" (2.19.7). See what we mean?
They're a vague threat early on, but the threat becomes real when Lev joins a group of them—Mai, Blaine, and Cleaver. Cleaver is a pilot who plans on betraying the Admiral. Blaine has tattoos (and in this world, tattoos = bad news) and Mai, like Lev, has expected to die for a long time because "Back in China […] people were killing off their baby girls left and right" (2.19.92). Death is kind of these teens' thing.
These people live for "chaos" and they "mess with the world" (5.35.42), which is exactly what happens in the book's conclusion. Their explosions change things in ways Lev never anticipated. Check out our "What's Up With the Ending?" section for more.
We meet a few other unwinds on Connor and Risa's journey across half the U.S. There's Hayden, the collateral damage in a bitter custody battle. His parents would rather no one have him: "Each would rather see Hayden unwound than allow the other parent to have custody" (2.19.90). Yikes, that's harsh. There's also Zachary, also known as "Emby," or M.B., for mouth breather. He has a reason for this. It's called asthma. And it's this asthma that clues off the Admiral that Emby received an organ from his son, Harlan¸ causing Emby to be shipped off the Harlan reunion (more on that in our Symbols section).
Finally, there's poor Dalton¸ who plays in the Unwind band with Risa and perishes in the bombing, as well as Alexis, a young mother who isn't set to be unwound and carries her baby, Chase, to school with her.
Most of the bad adults in the book, like Connor's parents or the numerous doctors and guards involved in unwinding children, remain nameless, almost making us think that all adults make up one big unnamed bad guy.
That's not quite true, though. We do meet a few good guys and gals over the age of eighteen. First is Josias Aldridge, a truck driver who literally "got dealt a new hand" (1.1.93) from an Unwind. Like the Admiral, he helps Connor as a way of paying it forward. Then there's Pastor Dan, who suffers a crisis of faith, thinking God wouldn't want children unwound and telling Lev to run away from this tithing.
Hannah Steinberg is a teacher and reluctant savior who leads by example, even though she'd be immediately arrested if she ever took credit for leading a couple of AWOLs to safety. Hannah leads Connor and Risa to Sonia, an antique shop owner who almost seems old enough to have lived through "the first Prohibition" (2.19.61). Speaking of prohibition, she treats these ungrateful kids (they call her Dragon Lady even though she's saving their lives) as contraband, funneling them through a secret underground railroad to safety. Why? She never reveals her secrets.
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Narrator Point of View
What's Up With the Title?
What's Up With the Epigraph?
What's Up With the Ending?
Unwind begins as our three heroes (well, two heroes and an antihero), Connor, Risa, and Lev—all of whom are due to be unwound for one reason or another—manage to escape and end up on the run. Their plan goes well until Lev, who wants to be unwound, turns the group in, splitting them up. Connor and Risa end up in an Underground Railroad of sorts, run by a retired Admiral and an ancient antique shop owner, that ships kids to an airplane graveyard in the desert, while Lev teams up with a boy nicknamed CyFi, who is in search of secrets of his past.
In the Graveyard, Connor and Risa work for the Admiral, while their rival, a fellow unwind on the run named Roland, plots against them. There's a murder mystery, an abandoned Air Force One, and more cafeteria dining scenes than a chapter of Twilight. Lev arrives, bodies are dug up in the desert, and a strange cult of chaos is plotting…something. Before you know it, the kids are revolting, Air Force One is set on fire, and Connor and Risa are forced to team up with Roland to save the Admiral's life.
Roland, who learned to fly a helicopter in a very short period of time, flies them to a nearby hospital…and then promptly turns them all in to the police. This backfires, as all three of them are shipped to the Happy Jack Harvest Camp to be unwound. Uh-oh. Lev shows up—again—but this time he's part of that strange chaos cult known as the Clappers, a group of suicide bombers who inject explosives into the bloodstream and blow themselves up by clapping.
After Roland is unwound, Connor is next. Lev's companions blow up the unwind facility to save Connor, but end up critically injuring him and Risa by mistake. Lev decides not to clap himself to death and decides to save Connor and Risa instead. Lev, the Clapper who didn't clap, escapes unwinding by being thrown in jail shortly after this incident. Risa escapes unwinding by ending up with a spinal cord injury so bad she can't walk. And Connor escapes unwinding by finding a fake ID and managing to pass himself off as an older guard.
Even though Connor loses his arm, and his limb is replaced by Roland's (tacky tattoo and all), Connor holds his head up high—and at least it's his own head—and returns to the Graveyard, where he attempts to calm things down and organize the remaining kids there to start a revolution.
Part 1: Triplicate
Connor Lassiter and his girlfriend, Ariana, do typical teenage things like staring into each other's eyes, smooching, and planning to run away from home to avoid being sentenced to death by their parents.
While many teens are melodramatic, in Connor's world, this threat is real. He's an "Unwind" (1.1.9), a teen who will undergo an unexplained procedure that will dismantle him. His body parts will then be donated to others.
This society doesn't consider this death. They think this is a way for kids to go on living.
Connor would like to remain in one piece, thank you very much, so he and Ariana plan on going AWOL.
When the night comes, Ariana is MIA on the whole AWOL thing, leaving Connor all by his lonesome.
She tells him she won't go with him, so Connor sneaks into an 18-wheeler at a truck stop by himself.
The trucker discovers him, but because he was the recipient of a limb from an Unwind, he decides not to turn Connor into the police. Paying it forward, if you will. Connor sits in the back of the truck and cries. "He's not sure who he's crying for […] for himself, for Ariana" (1.1.111), for Argentina. Who knows?
The police catch them anyway and arrest the trucker and Connor.
But when the police car almost collides with another vehicle and slides off the road, Connor manages to jump out of the car and run.
Risa Ward is an orphan in a state home, but she has a talent for piano.
She's trying to remember how to play a sonata and she's afraid of screwing up, probably because it's really hard to fit a Hyundai on a piano.
After her performance, Risa is told that she's going to be unwound. Someday her hands may play piano at Carnegie Hall, but "unfortunately the rest of Risa won't be there" (1.2.72).
She's loaded onto a bus for transfer to the unwind center.
But there are two kids fighting in the middle of the highway. When the bus careens off the road to avoid them, Risa manages to jump out of the bus and run.
Lev Calder is a tithe, and it's his last birthday. The youngest of 10 children, he'll be tithed by being unwound.
This isn't a surprise to him. His parents have always "given 10 percent of everything to [their] church" (1.3.28). Even their children.
With their Pastor Dan, the Calder family drives Lev to the harvest center.
But there's a commotion on the highway—a kid has escaped from a police car.
He runs straight for the Calder family vehicle and drags Lev out the door; as they're fighting in the street, a bus swerves to avoid them and crashes.
Lev bites the crazy kid in the arm and runs back to the car, but Pastor Dan tells him not to get back in the car. "Run as fast and as far you can" (1.3.95), he says. Mixed messages, dude.
Before Lev can decide what to do, he's hit in the shoulder by a tranquilizer dart and passes out. Nap time.
Connor, his arm stinging from Lev's bite (let's hope Lev isn't rabid), runs into the woods after the girl who got off the wrecked bus.
But then he decides to grab Lev, now unconscious, and carry him into the woods with him, over the shoulder like Santa's sack of toys or a cavewoman.
He finds the girl in the woods and tells her they should work together to escape. "What do you have in mind?" (1.4.9), she asks.
Officer J.T. Nelson finds a girl hurt in the woods.
Before he can help her, though, he's attacked by another kid, who just happens to be the AWOL Unwind boy he was pursuing.
The kid takes his tranquilizer gun and pumps him full of Ambien. Good night, officer.
Lev wakes up from his tranquilizer nap tied to a tree "by thick vines" (1.6.5). We had no idea there was a jungle in Ohio, but okay.
He is not happy to have been rescued from being unwound. He's a tithe, man, and he wants to be unwound. It's his life's purpose, like winning the Super Bowl or having the most Instagram followers.
He decides to make them think he's grateful, but when they least expect it "he'll make sure they both get exactly what they deserve" (1.6.36).
Risa says they need to change clothes and disguise themselves.
When she suggests that maybe she could disguise herself as a boy, Connor touches her hair and says, "I don't think you could ever pass for a guy" (1.7.23). He probably thinks catcalling women on the street is a compliment, too.
Risa twists his arm behind his back and tells him never to touch her again.
They decide to cut Lev free and bring him with them, because Connor thinks he might finally be grateful for staying alive.
Risa, being the brains of the operation, tries to convince Connor to listen to her plan, but he won't.
He grabs her wrist, but even though she told him never to touch her again, this time she lets him.
They argue until Lev tells them to stop.
When Lev goes to off to pee, Connor confesses that his anger was all a show to see if Lev would run away while they were fighting.
Risa realizes that Connor has some brains, too, and they proceed toward civilization.
Part 2: Storked
An unnamed girl is nineteen and pregnant; when she has her baby, she leaves it on a doorstep.
Doing so is legal in this world. It's called the Storking Initiative, and if you find a baby on your doorstep, you have to keep it.
But if you catch who left it there, they have to keep it.
The mother manages to escape without being caught. No more baby, no more problems.
Risa, pretending to be a high school kid named Didi, rings a doorbell and asks the homeowner to donate clothes and food to the homeless.
The woman falls for it, and donates clothes and canned food. Instant disguise with a side of lunch—boom.
Lev criticizes them for being felons, which doesn't sit well with Risa, but she channels Taylor Swift and "shake[s] it off" (2.10.23). Lev's gonna hate hate hate hate hate…
The kids or felons or Unwinds or whatever you want to call them find a newspaper in a bush.
There's a story about the highway incident, but no mention of the escaped teens.
This worries them, because if they're not mentioned, that might mean the police just want to hunt them and kill them, not capture them.
While they're just standing in the middle of the sidewalk reading a newspaper, a school bus pulls up as a cop car drives by.
They realize they need to get on the bus if they're pretending to be normal teenagers—but nearby a baby cries.
Connor cannot bear to see a storked baby, a sight he'd seen "twice on his own doorstep" (2.11.44), so he goes and takes the crying baby.
Risa plans to say its hers and they board the bus, "three fugitives with a baby" (2.11.72).
Risa, now a reluctant fake mother, finds a seat on the school bus next to a girl named Alexis. She, too, is a teen mom and is happy to meet Risa.
They pretend that Connor is the father and Lev is a brother.
Risa also pretends to be happy, even though she's furious at Connor for taking a baby.
He tries to apologize to her, but she won't take it.
Lev writes a boy a note in a notebook: "Help! I'm being held hostage!" (2.13.11)
The kid gets mad at Lev for borrowing his notebook without permission, so he rips out the page without reading it and throws it on the ground. Foiled by a litterbug.
All the kids file into school, but Connor, Risa, Lev, and the baby hide in the girls' bathroom.
Hiding in separate stalls, Connor explains to Risa about how they once got storked, so his dad snuck the baby to a different house, and everyone basically passed the baby around until it died.
Ever since then Connor has lived with this guilt—that's why he took the baby.
The bell rings. They've made it to second period.
They decide to swap stalls so no one gets suspicious, but no one is in Lev's stall. He's gone.
Lev goes to the office to tattle, reporting that there are two Unwind AWOLs hiding in the bathroom.
He then asks to call his parents, but he calls Pastor Dan instead.
Pastor Dan is angry at Lev for calling. He insists that he "save himself" (2.15.36) and not be tithed.
Confused still, Lev decides to pull the fire alarm. Might as well cause chaos for everyone.
A teacher finds a boy and a girl and their baby hiding in a lab.
The boy (who we know is Connor) begs her to help them.
She agrees, and she leads them outside with everyone else.
The teacher takes the baby and allows Connor and Risa to walk out with the rest of the kids.
However, they see Alexis talking to the cop…and pointing in their direction. Curses.
Risa tells Connor to start clapping. No, they're not trying to turn off the lights in the school but—there's a group of suicide bombers who detonate themselves by clapping.
Everyone panics that the clappers have pulled the fire alarm, creating enough commotion for Connor and Risa to escape.
They bump into the teacher who directs them to an antique shop and tells them to ask for Sonia.
She gives Risa the baby back and disappears into the crowd.
Lev believes he's been shown the "true meaning" (2.18.1) of being lonely as he is trampled by a stampeding crowd, abandoned by Connor and Risa.
He seems to forget that he's the one who turned them in, but he's too busy wallowing in self-pity to think of that.
Connor and Risa meet Sonia at the antique shop.
Sonia sends the kids to the back room to feed the baby while she helps a guy who's either a customer or a scouting agent for Antiques Roadshow.
When she returns, she takes them into the basement to hide with three other kids—Hayden, who has a permanent smirk; Roland, who has a tiger shark tattoo and is dripping with testosterone; and Mai, who is Chinese.
That night, none of the kids can sleep, so they share the horror story of Humphrey Dunfee, an urban legend about a kid who was unwound.
After he was unwound, his parents went crazy, and they hunt down people who received parts of their son so that they can rebuild him.
The next day, Sonia, whom the ungrateful kids call Dragon Lady, calls them one by one to her office.
When each kid returns, no one will say what happens there.
Connor doesn't know what's up until he gets there: Sonia wants him to write a letter saying everything he wants to say to one person.
He writes a long letter to his parents, then Sonia has him seal it.
She says that he should come back to collect it when he turns eighteen, and is no longer eligible to be unwound.
If he doesn't return that year, she'll mail it, assuming he was unwound or died otherwise.
Connor returns to the basement to send Risa to Sonia. She gives him the baby, and he's thankful he saved it…at least until it poops or starts crying.
The next time Sonia comes to get them, it's to ship them away in an ice cream truck.
They hide in the back (are they disguised as Drumsticks or Choco Tacos?), but the baby doesn't go with them.
Hannah, the helpful teacher, shows up and takes the baby, saying she'll give her a good home.
Even though Risa didn't want the baby in the first place, she's a little sad it's gone.
There are other kids in the truck, and one of them tells them that the ice cream truck is taking them to "the graveyard" (2.20.44). Say what?
Part 3: Transit
- Lev is on the road, not with Kerouac, but with a 15-year-old named Cyrus Finch, CyFi for short.
- CyFi is "umber" (3.21.9), which is what black people are now called. White folks are "sienna" (3.21.9). We guess that makes sunburned white people burnt sienna.
- They met at a mall, where CyFi was disgusted by Lev's dumpster diving. He showed Lev how to get people to just give them food.
- CyFi "ain't no runaway," he's "a run-to" (3.21.10), but he won't tell Lev where they're going.
- That's fine for Lev. He just wants to go somewhere, anywhere. Now they're following railroad tracks and eating road kill…err, "track-kill" (3.21.65) that they pass along the way.
- When they reach Indiana, CyFi starts talking differently, and he reveals that they're going to Joplin, Missouri.
- They stop at a shop in Indiana, and Lev notices CyFi shoplifting.
- Then Cy runs, and Lev has to chase him.
- He finds him, and realizes that Cy's pockets are full of shoplifted goods, which doesn't seem like the honorable CyFi at all.
- Cy confesses that part of his brain is from an Unwind—an Unwind from Joplin, Missouri, to be exact—and that personality sometimes takes over. It's what leads him on this quest.
- He makes Lev take away all the stolen goods, so Lev does…but he keeps a diamond bracelet just in case.
- It's been three weeks since Risa, Connor, and the others were stuffed into an ice cream truck. They must really be feeling the freezer burn by now.
- After being handed over to different vehicles a few times, they're dumped in a warehouse with a bunch of other kids.
- Connor often scuffles with the other kids, and he has developed a rivalry with Roland, so Risa considers separating herself from Connor. He's too volatile, like dynamite from Acme.
- She warns Connor to stay away from Roland. Roland doesn't just want to fight him, she says, he wants to kill Connor. Gasp.
- Connor ruminates on what Risa said and realizes that Roland is smarter than he gives him credit for. He's plotting something.
- Connor is also looking out for Lev at every turn. Not because he wants to hurt him—well, maybe he does—but mainly he's mad that he risked his life for Lev, and now Lev is probably dead.
- It's Christmas time. Ho ho ho, you're not dead. Merry Christmas.
- While everyone eats their Christmas slop, Risa goes to the bathroom.
- Roland follows her in and attempts to rape her, but Connor enters the bathroom and Risa yells, "Connor! Stop him!" (3.24.16)
- Connor doesn't do anything but wash his hands. Roland leaves anyway.
- Risa is furious that Connor didn't stop him, but Connor reminds her what she said: He shouldn't take Roland's bait.
- Now that Roland suspects Connor doesn't care about Risa, he'll probably stop bothering her. We can only hope.
- This one-page chapter is simply Connor feeling superior to Roland, and preparing himself for an eventual fight to the death.
Part 4: Destinations
- A boy comes into a pawnshop wanting to sell a diamond bracelet. Hmm…that boy and that bracelet look familiar.
- The boy bargains the man to five-hundred bucks, and when the pawnbroker goes to the safe, the boy knocks him out.
- When the pawnbroker, who is now a pawn in the boy's scheme, wakes up, his safe has been cleaned out. Fifteen-hundred smackers, just gone.
- Back at the warehouse, the boys and girls are split from each other and put into crates.
- Connor is about to be put into a crate with Roland, and he fears that Roland will kill him (and not with kindness), so he punches a kid in the face and gets separated.
- Connor is crated with different kids—Hayden, someone named Diego, and another called Emby, short for MB, meaning Mouth Breather.
- It's completely dark in there, but the boys believe they're being loaded onto a plane.
- During the flight, they philosophize about souls, death, and unwinding, a deep conversation that lasts until they land.
- We rejoin Risa as her crate is opened and she finds herself in "the graveyard" (4.28.12).
- There's a rumor that five kids suffocated—Risa hopes one of them wasn't Connor.
- It turns out the graveyard is an airplane graveyard in the Southwest run by a retired Navy Admiral whom they call the Admiral.
- The Admiral gives a talk about how he's saved their lives, it's a community, he's a dictator. Whatever you say, Admiral.
- Meanwhile, Lev has arrived in Joplin with CyFi.
- Lev realizes that CyFi has no idea what he's going to do there, but he sticks with him anyway.
- They pass the sign that says, "Now Entering Joplin. Population 45,504." Make it 45,506.2, the .2 being the fraction of CyFi's brain that belongs to someone else.
- In this chapter, we get a glimpse into CyFi's head, and it's like Stephenie Meyer's The Host up in there.
- There's another boy in the corner of his head who sometimes takes over.
- This time, the boy knows he needs to head home for dinner.
- When he arrives at his—the boy's—parents' house, everyone is waiting. We're talking the cops, Cyrus' parents, and the boy's parents.
- The boy is named Tyler, and Tyler takes over to dig up a small mound in the backyard.
- Inside is a suitcase and when he opens it, it glows; it's filled with jewelry shoplifted by Tyler.
- Tyler begs everyone not to unwind him, and Cyrus can't stop him: "Tyler can't understand that he's already gone. […] So he goes on wailing." (4.30.56)
- Lev shouts at everyone, "TELL HIM YOU WON'T UNWIND HIM!" (4.31.3)
- Everyone stares dumbly, so Lev threatens to bash everyone with a shovel if they don't.
- Tyler's parents tell Cyrus/Tyler they won't unwind him, and he calms down.
- Cyrus' dads step in to comfort their son, and Lev chooses that moment to turn and run away into the night, "to lose himself now that darkness is his friend" (4.31.19).
Part 5: Graveyard
32 The Admiral
- The Admiral lists his rules, which he calls the "Ten Demandments" (5.32.19). They are:
- You arrived here by necessity. You stay here by choice.
- Surviving has earned you the right to be respected.
- My way is the only way.
- Your life is my gift to you. Treat it like one.
- You are better than those who would unwind you. Rise to the occasion.
- Everyone in the Graveyard contributes. No exceptions.
- Teenage rebellion is for suburban schoolchildren. Get over it.
- Hormones will not rule my desert.
- At 18 you cease to be my concern.
- Make something of yourself. This is an order.
- But the Admiral won't tell anyone why he's doing all this for them. What a mystery.
- Risa meets with "the Goldens" (5.33.2). Not Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia, but the five most trusted kids in the Graveyard. They're the ones in charge.
- They ask what Risa is good at. When it seems like she's only good at piano, and they have no piano to play, they assign her the role of dishwasher.
- She accepts without resistance, but when a boy with a bloody nose comes in, Risa helps him.
- So then they assign her to medic instead.
- The kid with the bloody nose gets to be a dishwasher. Um, he's going to bleed all over the dishes, guys.
- Connor is assigned to fix things, while Roland is the pilot's assistant, learning to fly.
- About once a week, there's a "work call" (5.34.17) in which jobs are offered and some kids take them in exchange for new identities. It's witness protection meets indentured servitude.
- It's one of the only times all the kids are together, too, so naturally, they gossip.
- There's a rumor that the kids aren't actually going to work…they're being unwound for the Admiral's benefit. Notice his teeth, the kids say; they're too perfect.
- Connor takes the rumor as truth and starts plotting against the Admiral.
- While he's plotting, he sees someone he never expected to—Lev.
- So Connor punches him.
- Then the two hug it out, and Connor takes him to Risa to check out the shiner.
- Lev lets Connor know that he deserved that first punch, but "don't you ever hit me again, or you'll regret it" (5.34.75).
- Two days later, the Admiral calls for Connor. He reveals that his perfect teeth are dentures, so he's not the monster everyone thinks he is.
- Then he leads Connor to a jet and has him open a crate.
- Inside are the five Goldens, all dead. The Admiral wants Connor's help finding out who did it.
- Of course Connor thinks Roland did it, now he just needs proof.
- Connor helps the Admiral bury them in the desert; then he starts spying on Roland as much as he can.
- He and the Admiral have secret meetings to discuss anything Connor overhears, and the Admiral reveals another secret: He had his own son, Harlan, unwound, and has always regretted it.
- It seems that it's been a month between Lev running away from Joplin and his appearance at the Graveyard.
- During that time, he's become street smart and speaks "the language of the lost" (5.35.2).
- He's up to something, though, and he goes to a secret meeting in a rundown plane.
- It's run by Cleaver, the Admiral's trusted pilot, and includes a kid with tattoos named Blaine, and Mai, who we met earlier with Connor and Risa in the antique store basement.
- We're not sure what they're planning, but they say things like "Everyone has to pay" (5.35.37), and "We're chaos. We mess with the world." (5.35.42), so it doesn't sound good.
- Connor warns Risa to stay away from the Admiral—he's looking for Goldens and Connor doesn't want Risa to be chosen. It's a dangerous job, it seems.
- Meanwhile, Risa is suspicious about how strangely Lev is acting.
- At the next work call, there's a job working an oil pipeline in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, "one of the coldest, most brutal places on Earth" (5.36.56).
- Lev takes the job—Risa can't believe it.
- She threatens Lev, saying she'll tell the Admiral he has an infectious disease.
- They argue, and eventually she relents, but she still doesn't trust him.
37 Emby and the Admiral
- The Admiral calls for Emby, the mouth breather who was crated with Connor.
- He's shipping him away because he's "a very special boy" (5.37.11). Nope, that's not creepy. Not creepy at all.
- The Admiral reveals that Emby is going to meet the Admiral's wife…Mrs. Dunfee.
- Yep, Humphrey Dunfee is real, and he was the Admiral's boy, and now the Admiral is fixing things "bit by bit by bit" (5.37.31).
- When everyone notices Emby is gone, Roland spreads a rumor that the Admiral had him scalped for his hair.
- Connor, however, thinks Roland did it.
- The Admiral lets Connor believe Roland killed Emby; it's all the better to motivate Connor's investigation.
- Hayden delivers Roland a note: "I know what you did" (5.39.1). Dun dun dun…
- The note also says that Connor will make a deal with him, and arranges a meeting at the FedEx jet.
- Roland grabs his knife and heads to the meeting.
- Hayden delivers Roland a note: "I know what you did" (5.39.1). Dun dun dun…
- The note also says that Connor will make a deal with him, and arranges a meeting at the FedEx jet.
- Roland grabs his knife and heads to the meeting.
- A search party looking for Emby finds the dead Goldens buried in the desert. They really shouldn't have put up that "five dead kids here" grave marker.
- They assume the Admiral did it, and get ready to storm his jet.
- The Admiral asks Risa to bring him some aspirin, so she takes them to Air Force One.
- Outside, a commotion is building.
- The mob of angry kids starts throwing rocks at the jet.
- They tear the power line from Air Force One's generator, and the powered-down jet "begins to bake in the broiling sun" (5.43.11).
- Unaware of the mob building outside, Connor blames the death of the Goldens on Roland, trapped inside a crate like veal.
- But Roland refuses to confess.
- Unaware of the mob building outside, Connor blames the death of the Goldens on Roland, trapped inside a crate like veal.
- But Roland refuses to confess.
- Hayden interrupts Connor's interrogation of Roland, telling him that a mob is tearing the place apart.
- Connor rushes to Air Force One, and Cleaver is outside bleeding.
- Cleaver admits to Connor that he killed the Goldens, saying Roland had nothing to do with it.
- Cleaver dies, and Connor leaves his body to rescue Risa from Air Force One.
- He gets inside, but the Admiral isn't doing well; he's too tired to even say "get off my plane" to the angry mob.
- Connor has a plan to get him to the hospital.
47 First-Year Residents
- A helicopter piloted by a 17-year-old crash lands in the hospital parking lot, and two kids get out with a very sick man.
- The man doesn't want an Unwind's organ, though; he wants old-fashioned surgery, even if it's more risky.
- They rush the man away, and the teen helicopter pilot pulls the doctor aside and tells her to call the Juvey-cops. He says they're runaway Unwinds.
- The Juvey-cops take Risa and Connor into custody.
- Risa doesn't subscribe to the whole "'tis better to have loved than lost" schtick.
- She's upset that all the hopes she had are being taken away.
- She's going to be unwound, and she can't see the ray of light in this situation.
- Roland didn't think this through very well, because the Juvey-cops take him into custody, too.
- He's also a runaway, remember? Oops.
- However, Roland tries to strike a deal: "What if I told you I know where there are more than four hundred AWOL Unwinds?" (5.49.9). Yep, he's going to throw the whole Graveyard under the bus.
- Connor can't believe Roland would sell out all 400 other kids.
- The Juvey-cops believe it, though, because they already know about the Graveyard. This isn't news to them.
- When Roland wonders why they don't round the kids up, the cops admit that the Admiral is "doing [them] a favor" (5.50.11)—they don't have to spend the time or labor tracking kids down when they're out of public view.
- The Juvey-cops take all three—Connor, Risa, and Roland—away to be unwound.
Part 6: Unwound
- Welcome to Happy Jack Harvest Camp (6.51.5), a beautiful place where teenagers are ripped to shreds for organ donation. Enjoy your stay!
- This is where Connor, Risa, and Roland are dropped off, in chains.
- They separate the three kids and leave Connor in his shackles by the flagpole. At least they didn't tape him to the flagpole.
- Like at the Graveyard, Risa is brought before a woman to assess her assets.
- When Risa says she's good at piano, the woman's eyes light up.
- Connor, as the mythical Akron AWOL, is a hero on the wards.
- However, a new friend named Dalton warns him that this is a bad thing—they'll want him unwound super fast.
- During a game of volleyball (this place is like summer camp meets death row), a bunch of tithes are ushered into the facility. Connor thinks he recognizes one of them, but "he knows it's just his imagination" (6.53.33).
- "It's not Connor's imagination" (6.54.1).
- Lev is pretending to be a tithe. He's at Happy Jack Harvest Camp, too, and scheduled to be unwound in thirteen days.
- Risa is the new keyboard player of the band, playing the death march atop what they call the Chop Shop, the room where kids are unwound.
- She doesn't understand how they can do it, but it's not like she has a choice.
- Connor and Roland get into an argument that escalates into a physical fight.
- Roland gets the upper hand by getting a grip on Connor and crushing his windpipe, but just before Connor passes out, Roland lets go. He can't bring himself to kill him.
- "Consider yourself lucky" (6.56.24), Roland says, even though they're all going to die soon anyway.
- As a tithe, Lev is treated with first-class style—plush furniture, a treadmill, good food, the works.
- He's been prescribed additional exercise due to his high triglyceride level. That sounds dangerous.
- He sneaks away and meets with Mai and Blaine.
- Blaine hands them all little Band-Aids, but he tells them they're not bandages: "They're detonators" (6.57.42).
- Connor secretly meets Risa in the girls' bathroom at breakfast.
- They smooch a bit and don't talk about the fact that they'll be unwound soon.
- Speaking of unwinding, it's Roland's time to go.
- He can't believe he's being unwound before Connor, but it's true, and there's nothing he can do to stop it.
- The band plays as they lead him to the Chop Shop.
- Inside, it's soundproof. Scary.
- Two paragraphs tell us little about the unwinding process, just that "it takes twelve surgeons, in teams of two, rotating in and out as their medical specialty is needed. It takes nine surgical assistants and four nurses. It takes three hours" (6.60.2). Good times.
- Bye bye, Roland. Over the course of three hours, he's dismantled bit by bit.
- He's awake for the whole process, too, but it's painless as they start with his feet and end with his brain, taking him apart until there's nothing left.
- This might be one of the most horrifying things we've ever read.
- After hiding his detonators in his sock, Lev goes on a nature walk and bumps into Connor.
- Neither one can believe that the other one is there.
- Someone drags Connor away before they can speak, though, and Lev overhears that Connor is set to be unwound that afternoon.
- Lev has to stop them, so he tells Blaine that they're onto them—they need to detonate sooner than they planned.
- He runs back to his room to get his detonators.
- As he puts them into his pocket, a counselor comes and takes him to the office.
- They're afraid he's not adapting to tithing life well; he's too much of a loner.
- The guy named Mullard who's guarding the Chop Shop isn't too bright.
- Two Unwinds show up (we know it's Blaine and Mai) and say they're there to bring food to the band.
- He just lets them waltz right past.
- Connor is informed that he's to be unwound. When? Right now.
- The guards get ready to restrain him, but he wants to keep his dignity—even if he can't keep any of his other body parts—so he walks to the Chop Shop himself with his head held high.
- Neither Blaine nor Mai wants to be the first one to explode, so they're waiting for someone else to do it.
- Lev sees Connor approach the Chop Shop, and Risa on top of it. Suddenly this whole blow-up-the-Chop-Shop plan isn't looking so good now.
- He tries to stop Connor, but he can't; all the other kids have surrounded him, and of course they're applauding.
- Inside the Chop Shop, a guard catches Blaine.
- Blaine tries to run, but the guard shoots him with a tranquilizer dart.
- Big mistake—the impact makes Blaine go boom.
- When Mai hears the explosion, she starts clapping, and she explodes, too.
- The roof collapses, taking Risa down with it.
- Lev can't bring himself to explode, so he decides to rescue people.
- Connor stumbles from the explosion, missing an eye, his arm crushed. Unwinding almost looks good right about now.
- The kids start a riot; they think Connor blew up the Chop Shop and they go wild.
- In the commotion, Lev grabs Connor and binds his wounds…then Connor passes out.
Part 7: Consciousness
- Connor regains consciousness, but only half his eyesight.
- A nurse comes in, excited he's awake.
- She calls him Mr. Mullard, and Connor corrects her, saying he's Connor Lassiter.
- Um, no, she says—they found an ID nearby, and it belongs to a nineteen-year-old (and therefore un-unwindable) guard named Elvis Mullard.
- Connor takes the hint, and the name.
- The nurse explains that as a guard he qualified for emergency transplants. Looks like being a guard at a child-murdering facility gets good healthcare benefits. Duly noted.
- Connor realizes he has a new arm…an arm with the tattoo of a tiger shark. Well, at least Roland's arm is being put to good use.
- Risa survived the explosion, too, but she's in terrible shape, "riddled with steel pins like a human voodoo doll" (7.67.3).
- Connor comes to visit, and Risa explains that she's paralyzed from the waist down.
- The law prohibits unwinding the disabled, so it's a loophole, and they both get to live. Yay.
- Connor reveals his arm—a.k.a. Roland's arm—and says he'll never touch her with it.
- She takes the arm and holds the hand to her face.
- "I know this is your hand now," she says. "Roland would never have touched me like that" (7.67.28).
- Lev is now held in a high-security detention center; he's been given multiple blood transfusions to flush the explosives from his system.
- He has a visitor, too—Pastor Dan.
- Pastor Dan mentions that Cyrus testified before Congress, making a big stink about unwinding, and there's talk of lowering the legal age of adulthood from eighteen to seventeen.
- Also, Lev is on the cover of a magazine: The "clapper who didn't clap" (7.68.31). His actions have a lot of people thinking.
- Because Lev was a clapper, he won't be unwound either. There are always trace amounts of boom juice in his system.
- He'll be released into house arrest.
- His brother, Marcus, who was disowned from his family, is petitioning for guardianship. Maybe they'll be a happy family again.
- In west Texas (not West, Texas), it's time for Harlan "Humphrey" Dunfee's reunion.
- The Admiral isn't chopping up people who got parts of his son, but he is giving them a home at his house.
- They all have little memories of Harlan, and together it's like a big family reunion.
- Meanwhile at the Graveyard, the Admiral hasn't returned, but Connor has.
- He's organizing all the remaining Unwinds: "We will make ourselves heard" (7.69.30), they say.
- Risa's along, too—she's in a wheelchair now—and together, they have "the wonderful luxury of hope" (7.69.59).
- Well, at least until the next book in the series begins.