65 pages 2 hours read

Neal Shusterman


Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2012

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Summary and Study Guide


UnWholly (2012) by Neal Shusterman is Book 2 in the Unwind Dystology. Shusterman originally planned the series to be a dystopia trilogy, but the third book, UnSouled, was split into two for publication due to length. While it was nominated for several awards in Young Adult literature, it did not win any, in contrast to the first book of the series, Unwind, which won nearly a dozen awards and prizes.

UnWholly is science fiction, specifically YA dystopia with biopunk elements. YA dystopias tend to be published in trilogies, focus on romance (especially love triangles), and conclude with conclusive rebellion against the dystopian state that defines them. Biopunk is a derivative of the cyberpunk genre which focuses on the implications of biotechnology, in this case the discovery of universal donor capabilities, which allow 99.4% of an unwound’s body to be utilized. For reference, an unwound is an individual between the ages of 13 and 18 (later reduced to 17) killed legally by the government to harvest their organs. Organ transplants from unwounds are what fuel the economy in this series.

Plot Summary

The novel jumps between different characters’ points of view very quickly, often showing the same events from multiple perspectives. It opens with a Jeopardy-style Q&A about the events of the first novel, Unwind.

Then, the third-person narrator follows Starkey, a stork (legally abandoned baby), as he escapes Juvie-cops (police responsible for capturing teens) who intend to unwind him (harvest his organs). He kills two cops, makes his escape, and is transferred between safehouses by the Anti-Divisional Resistance (ADR), where he is revered by other AWOLs (unwind-runaways). The last safehouse the ADR sends him to is the Graveyard, an abandoned airbase in Arizona. Meanwhile, Connor, the protagonist from Unwind, rescues another teen who was to be unwound and brings him back to the Graveyard.

In the Graveyard, Connor visits Risa, a wheelchair-bound AWOL from the first book, and Trace, a highly-competent operative pretending to be an AWOL. Connor shakes up leadership, firing two organizers, and promoting Starkey. Later, Risa tries to visit him, but he has mixed feelings due to his transplanted arm coming from someone who tried to rape Risa in the first book. Starkey looks at the list of who they plan to save, and sees that it omits storks, causing him to start planning a coup. Connor discovers Trace is a double-agent and confronts him. Trace is able to take down Connor’s guards, but he reveals he has betrayed his bosses at Proactive Citizenry and is on Connor’s side.

Camus Composite-Prime (aka Cam Comprix), the first rewound, a kind of Frankenstein Monster of unwound teens, is introduced. He is shown growing up under the care of Roberta, one of the executives of Proactive Citizenry. During his first interview, journalists call him a subhuman oddity, which causes him to run away crying and become suicidal. Roberta decides to get him a companion.

In the Graveyard, a boy is gravely injured and needs medical attention. Risa insists on going to the hospital with him. The hospital is shown to be a trap. Risa trades her freedom for the boy’s and is taken away by the Juvey-cops. Meanwhile, Cam meets, and rejects, a number of Roberta’s candidates for his companion. He fixates on a picture of Risa, and Roberta secures her to be Cam’s companion. Risa rejects Cam at first, both due to him being a “freakish” amalgam and due to the knowledge that some of her friends were unwound to make him. Roberta offers Risa a spinal transplant, which Risa rejects, until Roberta blackmails her with the destruction of the Graveyard, which Proactive Citizenry has been aware of all along. Risa agrees, and pretends to support unwinding on TV, as well as acts marginally nicer to Cam.

Back in the Graveyard, Connor is upset that Risa turned herself in. The Admiral, an important character from the first book, visits Connor, and gives him the name “Janson Rheinschild” as a critical person to locate if they want to stop unwinding forever. Risa’s pro-unwinding PSA airs, and other AWOLs hide it from Connor for as long as they can, while Connor researches modern history leading up to the Unwind Accord. During this time, Starkey has been planning his coup, winning the loyalty of the storks, and shows Connor the PSA to throw him off. Starkey then leads a secret operation to save a stork but accidentally kills him, so he burns the teen’s house down before retroactively declaring it an act of terrorism.

As a result of this arson, the Graveyard is at risk of attack by Juvey-cops, and Connor makes a plan for the AWOLs to escape in the one functional plane. Starkey begins his coup but is easily defeated and imprisoned. Trace goes to speak to Proactive Citizenry and is delayed by being fired; his delay causes Connor to make a new plan—a small group will ambush the Juvey-cops while other teens run away.

In another plotline, Miracolina, a tithe—or child intended to be unwound from birth—is introduced. Her parents regret this decision and never sign the unwind order. She wants to be unwound but is rescued by a different group that focuses on saving tithes. Lev, a former suicide bomber and tithe from the first book, is attacked by the terrorist organization he left, resulting in the death of his mentor, Pastor Dan, and his brother getting injured. Lev moves into the Cavenaugh mansion, where freed tithes worship him, and meets Miracolina, who still wants to be unwound. He helps her escape, intending to escape himself, but they are captured by Nelson, a parts-pirate who has sworn vengeance against Connor. They escape Nelson and make their way to the Graveyard, just ahead of Nelson and the Juvey-cops.

Starkey escapes from being imprisoned for his coup, and tells Trace to start the plane, unbeknownst to Connor. As Juvey-cops rush into the Graveyard, Starkey sets off a flare, drawing all the storks to the escape jet. This causes the Juvey-cops to leave Connor’s staged ambush area and attack the teens heading for the jet. Starkey only allows most of the storks on the jet and threatens Trace with a gun in order to get him to fly away. However, the landing gear gets broken off in their hurried launch.

Lev knocks out Connor to prevent him from martyring himself; he then allows himself to be captured by Nelson. Lev then knocks out Nelson and uses his van to escape the raid on the Graveyard. Hayden, one of Connor’s lieutenants, takes a vote on the one remaining plane: surrender and be unwound or die in the plane. All of the AWOLs agree to die, and they begin to asphyxiate until Hayden breaks out a window and declares a new Teen Uprising.

Risa watches all of this happen on TV as she is heading to an interview. She then confesses to being blackmailed and speaks out against unwinding on live television. Roberta tries to stop the interview, but can’t, and Risa escapes with the help of Cam, for whom she has developed feelings. Miracolina is captured by the Juvey-cops and told that her parents never signed the unwind order.

Starkey and the escapees on the plane have to land in the Salton Sea in a crash that kills dozens, including Trace. Starkey vows to create chaos with the handful of storks he has left, along with the weapons he brought on the flight as the plane sinks into the water.

After their escape, Lev and Connor discuss their plans in a diner where a waitress helps them avoid the police, showing that opinions have changed regarding the AWOLs. Connor and Lev are determined to go back to Ohio, where Sonia, a figure from the first book, is revealed to be connected to “Janson Rheinschild.”