I often cruise the teen fiction bookshelves at our local Barnes & Noble. This genre of books has exploded in recent years and it seemed to start with The Hunger Games trilogy of books and movies. Suddenly, Dystopian novels were hot. And many of these novels have edgy themes that appeal to me.
Recently, I picked up Unwind by Neal Shusterman. The premise is simple – although bizarre . In a future time, the Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The resolution: life is inviolate from the moment of conception until age 13. Between the ages of 13 and 18, however, parents can have their child “unwound.” This means that all the child’s organs are transplanted into different recipients, so life technically doesn’t end- or that’s the story the government has instilled in the populace.
The novel is about three teenagers on the run because they are due to be unwound. From the back cover: “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.”
I’d never heard of Shusterman. But the cover caught my attention, then I read the back cover, opened the book and read the first page and bought it. He has written over two dozen novels and this one was voted book of the year by the American Library Association and had five star reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal. I’m halfway through it and am enjoying it and looking forward to reading the second in the series. Schusterman is a terrific storyteller and has created characters that really make you feel what it would be like to be a teenager living in this kind of world.
Young adult novels have certain rules and among them are no sex scenes and no swearing. I’ve read a couple of YA novels that violate the rules – like The 5th Wave by Rick Yancy, which became a movie. In The Hunger Games, these rules struck me as absurd. After all, kids are pitted against other kids in survival games that end in death until just one kid remains. So violence is okay, but sex and saying shit are forbidden. The silly rules aside, I think it’s great that the YA fiction market is burgeoning and that teens have so many more options for reading than they once did.
So the next time you’re in a bookstore, walk through the teen fiction aisles. See what catches your attention.