UnWholly (2012) is the second book in Neal Shusterman’s UNWIND DYSTOLOGY. You’ll need to read the first novel, Unwind, first, so I’ll assume you have. This review will contain minor spoilers for that book.
Connor, Risa, and Lev have each escaped being unwound, are hiding from the juvenile authority, and are determined to stop the evil practice of unwinding that their society has embraced. The plot splits into a few subplots as each teenager has their own dangerous road to travel in this installment.
An intriguing new member of the cast is Cam, a young man who, so far, is hard to figure out. That’s because he was created by a Frankensteinish scientist who fashioned him out of the body parts of many talented teens (we met one of those teens in the previous book). Cam was built to be an ideal human being but, when he comes to consciousness, he feels disjointed and confused. Will he embrace his superiority and enjoy the indulgent elite life he was born into, or will he turn against the institution that created him?
In addition to his loveable protagonists, Schusterman has created some really odious characters for this series – the kind you just love to hate. There’s Nelson, a body parts pirate who is eager to catch and sell high-value bodies such as those that belong to Connor, Lev, and Risa (plus, he’s out for revenge, not just money). And there’s Starkey, a competent stork (abandoned at birth by his parents) who is working his way up the ladder at the camp that Connor runs. Starkey has his own agenda and it’s not the same as Connor’s.
In my review of Unwind, I mentioned that I had trouble believing in Shusterman’s premise, but his world becomes more believable in this novel due to additional history and press clippings and commercials sporadically placed throughout the text. From them we learn why citizens voted for unwinding and how the practice has profited businesses, parents, and other consumers. For example, one commercial advertises neural weaves made from unwound brain tissue that can be pre-programmed with any academic subject and implanted into kids’ brains so they can excel in school. You can see how parents might justify the unwinding of feral or troubled teens so that children who are loved and wanted can have the best life possible.
This moral dilemma is one of the best parts of the UNWIND series. Unwinding was a compromise between the pro-life and pro-choice armies but, through the clear eyes of our teenage protagonists, Shusterman does a good job exploring many of the ugly consequences of this decision.
As with the first novel, the fast pace of UnWholly rarely lags and the plot is never predictable. It’s exciting all the way through and my daughter and I were eager to pick up the third book, UnSouled, as soon as we finished UnWholly.
The audiobook, produced by Audible Studios, is narrated by Luke Daniels. We don’t love all of the voices he chose for Shusterman’s characters, but he does a fine job and I can recommend the audio version.