Unwind cover 4
Author: Neal Shusterman
Publication Date: November 6, 2007
Published By: Simon & Schuster
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Unwind is a 2007 science fiction novel by young adult literature author Neal Shusterman.


Connor, Risa, and Lev are running for their lives.

The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child "unwound," whereby all of the child's organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn't technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not talented enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.


Unwinding is now an accepted practice in the world, thanks to the Bill of Life, just with some rules that come with it: the parents can volunteer their child before they turn 18.

The story centers around three youths who have been scheduled to be unwound: Connor, a sixteen-year-old whose family believes he'd gotten into too many fights, Risa, a ward of the state who doesn't make it in the continuing program because of budget cuts, and Lev, a tithe whose rich parents had him, their tenth child, specifically to be unwound.

Connor Lassiter finds comfort with his girlfriend, Ariana, in his favorite hiding spot in the city: on a ledge of a freeway overpass behind an exit sign. He had just told her that he recently saw the triplicate his parents signed to finalize his unwinding. Ariana then tells him that they could run away together, a suggestion which Connor takes seriously and prepares for. When he comes for her that night, though, she reveals that she has changed her mind and merely suggested it on a whim.

Connor, now officially AWOL, decides to go to a diner with several parked trucks, hoping to hitch a ride. After successfully getting into one, the driver catches him but lets him stay, saying he had received an unwind arm. Just then, patrolling Juvey-cops arrive in the scene, and Connor was about to surrender when he realizes that they were not there for him; they were apprehending another AWOL hiding out in the truck he was about to hide in earlier. He then sees that the AWOL is a kid he knew from school, Andy Jameson, and he saw Connor. Andy, knowing that hope is lost for him anyway, turns himself in so Connor could get away.

Meanwhile, Lev Calder's family holds a tithing party, celebrating his thirteenth birthday. Him turning thirteen means he is ready to be tithed... to be unwound as the tithe from his family.

With the encouraging and teachings of Pastor Dan, Lev has looked forward to his tithing with little fear and doubt, that is, until his own brother, Marcus Calder, expresses grief and anger about his tithing. Despite the commotion at the party, the pastor and Lev's parents accompany him to the harvest camp the next morning.

Elsewhere, Risa Ward had just been called to the headmaster's office. A week earlier, Risa had performed a Sonata by Chopin at her State Home recital and had made five mistakes. His instructor tried to calm her down, but she knows that her life is at stake since the recital was meant to help the authorities choose which wards of the state to keep and let go.

At the headmaster's office, a tribunal was waiting for her, and even before they told her, she already knew: she was being unwound. They try to reassure her, to no avail.

She is then almost immediately loaded onto a bus that will transport her and other wards to several places, including the harvest camp where she and a few others will be unwound. On the bus, a military boeuf being transferred to a navy camp flirts with her, until another unwind, Samson, tells him that she is an unwind. Irritated at the scrawny boy attracted to her and his beliefs, she stays away.

Connor had fallen asleep and was awakened by his ringing cellphone. Before he could answer it, he realized his mistake and shut it off, forgetting that he should have done this from the beginning because it could have led the authorities to his location. He was right, though: the cops and his father were outside the truck, waiting for him. In the spur of the moment, Connor runs away and into the way of the Cadillac that was transporting Lev to his harvest camp. Connor sees the young tithe and decides to take him as hostage, and as his human shield.

It was at that moment when Risa notices the commotion outside. She sees Connor, with Lev in a chokehold, running away from the squad cars chasing them down, and the bus swerves to avoid the boys when they get in the way, killing the driver when he falls halfway through the windshield on the impact against a tree. In the midst of the panic, Risa escapes.

Connor is momentarily distracted by the chaos. Seeing it as an opportunity, Lev bit Connor and ran towards his family's car. However, Pastor Dan steps out and tells him to run. Confused, Lev was too stunned to move and was tranquilized by a Juvey-cop. Connor takes Lev and flees into the woods, following after Risa, whom he had just made eye contact with.

Connor goes after Risa and asks for her help to form a ruse that would get them all to safety. Risa baits the Juvey-cop pursuing them and Connor knocks him down, steals his own tranquilizer and shoots him.

Connor and Risa set up camp and, knowing that the tithe would want to turn himself, and them, in, tie Lev to a tree. Upon waking up, Lev is distrustful of them and plots to escape but goes along with their plans nonetheless.

work in progress

The next morning, while gathering supplies, the three come across a storked baby sitting on the doorstep of a seemingly unhappy family. Remembering Baby Lassiter, Connor could not resist and picks up the baby. Frustrated, Risa takes the blame for him, pretending to be the mother of the child who attempted to leave it their. They take the child, whom they name Didi, and get on a school bus to blend in, skirting a cop car cruising nearby.

The three hide out in the school bathroom with the baby. Lev takes his chance to escape, because as a tithe, he believes that it is an honor to be unwound, and he goes to the school office to turn in the others. He calls his pastor after he's done so, who tells him he helped keep their faces out of the paper so Lev could be free. Astonished by this sudden change, Lev pulls the fire alarm to help Connor and Risa escape from the incoming cops.

Connor, Risa and the baby attempt to hide, but are discovered by a teacher, Hannah, who helps them to escape the school and tells them to go to an antique store and ask for Sonia, who will help them. The store is a safe house, where they stay for a few days before the Ice Cream man comes to pick them up and shuttle them to another house in the chain. Before they leave, Sonia has them and the other kids, one of whom is a bully named Roland, write letters to their loved ones about how they felt about being ordered to be unwound and said she would mail them if they didn't come to collect it a year after their eighteenth birthdays, when they would be safe from unwinding. Hannah comes to say goodbye, and to take the baby, who she and her husband have decided to adopt and claim as a storked baby. The escaped children are eventually taken to a holding area, a big warehouse by an airport.

Lev, in the meantime, has also managed to escape and has met up with a kid named Cy-Fi who claims not to be a runaway, but is headed to Joplin because 1/8 of his mind, which he got from a single unwound youth instead of bits and parts like was usually done, would take over his mind at times and he needed peace. Cy-Fi teaches Lev some street smarts along the way, and Lev helps him and the unwound kid inside him get closure.

At the warehouse, Risa begins to understand the power games Roland is playing in breaking up any groups of kids that might be a threat to him. She tries to make Connor understand and stay calm, as a fight between the two of them is looming as Connor appears to be the next biggest threat to Roland. Connor takes her words to heart and isn't baited by Roland when he attempts to rape Risa in the bathroom. Shortly after, they are all taken to the Graveyard, an aircraft graveyard, their final destination and where they will remain until they reach the age of eighteen and are safe.

A former admiral is in charge of the airplane graveyard and assigns the children to work detail where they can best be used. Connor becomes a mechanic and Risa becomes a medic, while Roland learns to fly a helicopter from Cleaver, the only other adult who knows about the kids. Roland starts up his trouble anew, spreading stories about the Admiral to sow dissent and to make himself the new leader. Connor ends up on the Admiral's side as a spy, and when a number of the higher up kids are killed, he investigates, believing Roland to be responsible. A short time in, Lev arrives, tougher than before, and joins a secret group that wants to damage Unwind facilities rather than just live out to age eighteen and then leave the camp.

The Admiral has a heart attack during a riot caused by doubts sown by Roland, even though he is not there to direct it and take over. Connor brings things under control, but gets Roland and Risa to come with him to fly the Admiral to a hospital, even knowing they will likely be caught. They are taken away to a harvest camp, where Risa unwillingly joins the band which plays at the unwinding and death of each child.

Lev is at the camp as well, having turned himself in after becoming a clapper, a suicide bomber who has been injected with a liquid explosive triggered by clapping hard enough. Roland is unwound due to his blood type being high on demand. Just as Connor is about to be unwound, the other two clappers, Blaine and Mai, who are at the camp with Lev detonate their explosives at his request. He intends to join them, but at the last minute changes his mind, determined to pull out unwound youth from the wreckage and save Connor. He does so, and confesses himself to the police.

Back at the hospital, Connor and Risa unite again, having begun a relationship while at the harvest camp. Connor's injuries made him the unwilling recipient of a new eye, and an arm that formerly belonged to Roland, which he can tell from the shark tattoo on the arm. The nurse gives him a fake ID from a guard killed in the explosion to save him from unwinding. Risa refuses treatment despite being paralyzed from the waist down, and saves herself that way as well, as cripples cannot be unwound. Lev is saved by the explosive fluid in him, which is slowly being removed from his bloodstream.

Risa and Connor return to the Graveyard to run it because the Admiral is too weak, having refused to take a new heart from an Unwind. They promise to begin fighting against harvesting. The story ends with a party at the Admiral's house, celebrating the birthday of his son, who he and his wife unwittingly had unwound. All the people who received parts from his son attend, bringing him entirely there. Risa and Connor go back to the Graveyard.

At the end of the book, Connor becomes the new Admiral for the Graveyard.


  1. Triplicate
  2. Storked
  3. Transit
  4. Destinations
  1. Graveyard
  2. Unwound
  3. Consciousness


work in progress


A film adaptation of Unwind is currently in production by Constantin Film, with the script also penned by author Neal Shusterman.


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