111 pages 3 hours read

Neal Shusterman


Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2007

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Summary and Study Guide


Unwind (2007) is a young adult novel by Neal Shusterman. The first title in the Unwind Dystology, the dystopian narrative takes place in a future United States where citizens fought the Second Civil War over abortion. As a result, parents can now opt to have children between the ages of 13 and 18 “unwound” in special harvest camps, meaning they authorize the dismemberment of their children. Because the majority of body parts find use in other things, the government doesn’t view these dismemberments as murder as the individual body parts still “live.” Unwind addresses themes of nurture versus nature, the effects of betrayal, role models and friendships, and other sociological touchpoints, including abortion, abuse, and individual liberties.

This guide refers to the 2009 paperback reprint edition by Simon & Schuster.

Plot Summary

Three teenagers—Connor, Risa, and Lev—prepare themselves for the most terrifying experience of their life—they are going to be unwound: taken apart piece by piece by order of their parents. For Connor and Risa, the idea is new to them. Lev, on the other hand, has prepared for this moment all his life. Lev is a tithe, a child given to the unwinding process as a religious sacrifice. While Lev is prepared for the process, Connor and Risa are not. Connor runs away from home and from the cops, making a mad dash across a highway, causing a terrible accident. In the commotion, Risa escapes and Connor kidnaps Lev, much to Lev’s annoyance.

On their journey, Connor insists on picking up a “storked” baby, a baby left on someone’s doorstep. The baby offers a perfect disguise when all three kids get onto a school bus. They tell people they are new and that the baby is Risa and Connor’s. Meanwhile, Lev quietly tries to get someone to help him, without success. Lev ditches Risa and Connor at the school and tells someone at the front office that he has been kidnapped. He calls his pastor, who tells him this is his chance at a new beginning and not to mess it up. Lev is crestfallen. Later, Connor and Risa run for their lives with the help of a teacher, who tells them to go to a nearby antique shop.

The antique shop turns out to be a hideaway for runaway Unwinds. Connor and Risa meet Roland, a bully who manipulates others to follow his rules. Together, they move from hideaway to hideaway until they arrive at a large warehouse to await the final leg of their journey. While there, Roland corners Risa and tries to force himself on her. Connor intervenes and Risa starts to see him as a hero. Meanwhile, Lev travels with a boy named CyFi. CyFi turns out to be a regular boy with part of an Unwind’s brain transplanted into his. The brain transplant is causing CyFi problems as he has flashbacks and arguments with himself. Due to the connection with Unwind’s brain transplanted into his, CyFi’s goal becomes reaching the Unwind’s hometown.

Connor and Risa make it to the infamous “Graveyard,” a safe haven run by the Admiral for Unwinds hiding from the authorities. Lev eventually makes it there, too, after he witnesses CyFi’s confrontation with the unknown Unwind’s parents. The event changes Lev. It makes him angry. Things at the Graveyard become more complicated when the Admiral’s five most trusted kids go missing. The Admiral reveals that someone killed the five—suffocated them in a crate—and asks Connor to find the perpetrator. Connor suspects Roland. However, unbeknownst to all of them, CyFi is the real culprit. Regardless, people soon suspect that the Admiral is guilty. Connor calms the mob and helps the Admiral get to safety. However, when the Admiral has a heart attack, they must return to civilization—flown there by the only person who can help them: Roland.

Roland asks a resident to call the cops and rats out Connor, Risa, and the others. The cops arrest the three, and are particularly interested in Connor and his previous escapades. The three of them are brought to a harvest camp to be unwound. Risa is spared, at least for a while, when she proves useful as a musician. Connor, however, is targeted because of his fame. While Lev poses as a tithe reunited with his purpose, his intentions are more sinister. His friends from the Graveyard join him as regular Unwinds awaiting their time. When Lev learns that Connor is due to be unwound, he realizes he needs to save him. As Connor is led to the tent where he will be dismembered, Lev puts his plan into motion. Just as Connor enters the tent, the whole area explodes.

Connor is battered, but alive, and Lev helps him escape. Around them, the other kids rise up against the guards. A full revolt erupts. Later, Connor wakes up in a hospital with a new identity and a new arm. The arm is Roland’s. Risa was injured in the explosion, too. She is paralyzed and refuses a transplant. Both of them escape being unwound—one through a new identity and the other through disability. Lev also escapes being unwound. It is revealed that he was full of an explosive concoction. He sits in a holding cell where he is given blood transfusions. His pastor visits and tells him he is a hero.