Adventure Contest Winner: Nancy Khuc

Nancy Khuc

10th Grade
Mount Rainier High School
Des Moines, WA

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

In most political debates, news coverages, or even class discussions, abortion will likely be one of the topics that will be torn apart for analysis and debate. People typically find themselves situated on one of two sides of the ring: pro-life or pro-choice. However, in his novel, Neal Shusterman decides to present us a third option: Unwinding, an operation that does not kill a person, but leaves them in a “divided state”. This procedure dismantles the body of a child between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, allowing for all of their organs to be transplanted to different donors. All of this will take place under the order of their very loving and caring parents. In this complex dystopian world, readers find themselves exploring the lives of three teenagers, Connor, Risa, and Lev, who have all been placed on an unwind order for different reasons. They venture out on an escape mission that questions issues of morality and the value of human life.

Readers are first introduced to Connor, an impulsive 16 year old, who is known to be “troubled” by his teachers, peers, and parents. Upon discovering his own Unwind order, he is instantly angered, stating “The unfairness of it had made [him] want to break something” (6). Motivated by the anger of betrayal, he decides to run off with a backpack full of necessities and an ambition to stay alive. Along the way he meets Risa, a ward of state who cannot prove that she is special enough to live, and Lev, a tithe who believes it is his duty to be unwound as a sacrifice to God. Still convinced that he is a part of God’s plan, Lev decides to expose Connor and Risa by reporting them to officials. However, when he calls Pastor Dan, a family friend and mentor, Lev reluctantly regrets his decision after the Pastor tells him that he should live – a blatant contradiction to what Lev had been taught was his entire life’s purpose. Lev thinks, “After all that talk year after year about [his] holy duty, it’s all been a sham” (80). Throughout the beginning of the book, each character has an existential crisis, making them question what their purpose really is. Despite being told by their loved ones that it’s best for them to die in order to save another, each of them want to live.

This story presents us with the idea that anyone can be conditioned into believing that immoral things are acceptable. Like Risa, I find myself to be average. Never have I found an unexpected talent that will lead me in a long awaited journey to success, nor am I saying this will ever happen. I simply follow the steps society has set up for everyone, with the idea that if I follow these rules I will be a well-respected human being, living a respectable life. That is, being born, going to school, receiving an education, finding a job, and ultimately settling down with a family of my own, where my children will then repeat this cycle and their children after them. This is what I am conditioned to do. The society we grow up in has an enormous effect on our ideas of morality and ethics. As children, adults teach us what proper behavior is, how we should treat others, etc. In tithes cases, they were conditioned since birth to believe that they were born under God’s will. However, with the help of Risa, Connor, and Pastor Dan, Lev questions the morality of this practice. By taking a look at how Lev was able to develop throughout the story, one can learn to look at their own environment and question if what they were taught, whether it be religious, moral, or ethical principles, are simply right.
A surgeon who wants to carry out the first ever head transplant says the first one could take place as early as next year.” – BBC Newsbeat, September 2016

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