Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Book Review: UnDivided (and a Small Commentary on Young Adult Dystopian Fiction)

UnDivided by Neal Shusterman

This is the fourth (and final) book of the Unwind series and it's a fantastic ending to one of the best young adult dystopian series in recent years, if not longer.

Lest you think I say that lightly, let me remind you that I have read The Hunger Games Trilogy, the Divergent Series, the Matched Trilogy, the Legend Trilogy, the Tankborn trilogy, at least one other trilogy not even worth the time to look up its name and link here, and the beginnings of a few series still in progress. Many of them were enjoyable (not the third Divergent book, as I wrote in another post), but I was troubled by a recurrent theme: cynicism. In all these books, young people recognized injustice or even outright evil in their worlds and attempted to right the wrongs. That's what young people should do, even the real ones. In book after book, series after series, the young adults in question seem to learn that even among those fighting for "right," there are none who are hold fast to their integrity if it means losing the battle. You'll see, for example, atrocities on both sides not just among a few people here and there, but in the upper echelons of any group in power or seeking to be in power.

I'm making some generalizations here and some of these series are more permeated by this idea than others, but I kept saying to myself, "There are people of integrity in the world! It is possible to fight injustice without merely inflicting it on someone else!"

I feel this is an important aspect of young adult fiction not only because there are people of integrity, but because we are already living in the time of God's kingdom on earth and we are called to be a part of that transformation which means standing for Truth and Love without falling into the same sins as those we are fighting. Ideally, we wouldn't be "fighting" at all, but rather leading. In some ways, dystopian fiction is a genre that is perfect for young people precisely because it can accentuate some subtle (but present) flaw to extreme proportions and then allow young idealistic people to battle those flaws, all in ways not possible in contemporary realistic fiction (which also happens to often be quite depressing; there's more room for joyous success in dystopia).

Then I read the Unwind series. From the very beginning, I was excited by the big ideas presented in the books. The questions raised regarding abortion, faith, the value of a person, what it means to be human, the commercialization of medical procedures, and so much more, are fascinating and strikingly relevant. In the books, a tragic civil war broke out in the United States over abortion. In the end, a compromise made abortion illegal, but allows parents to "unwind" teenagers in a medical procedure that takes every piece of the young person apart so they can be used to heal, cure, or replace parts in other people. The technology is later advanced further, resulting in the ability to put pieces of people together to create life (just like Frankenstein without the need to pilfer cemeteries for dead bodies). Of course it's ridiculous to think such a thing could happen, and yet the scenario provides an interesting way to contemplate humanity. Personally, I think it provides a fertile ground for discussions about abortion, all the more so because the reviews on Amazon (which I glanced at before writing this post) often neglect to mention it at all.

To return to my point above, do characters on the "right" side of the debate in the Unwind series show integrity? I think they do, absolutely. There are plenty of people who seem to be on the "right" side who end up to be only looking out for their own interests and there are plenty of people fighting for reason and hope who make mistakes, some of them tragic and devastating, but there are a great many people who sacrifice whole-heartedly. There are also many people who yearn for a better way, who take small risks when offered an opportunity and indicate a desire to do even more, if only they could muster up enough courage and had the right leaders.

In each of these books, there is a great hope, a hint that a society can recognize mistakes and rectify them. (A few people, and then more, begin to think, "My God...what have we done?)

Most importantly, there is hope for forgiveness.

I fully intend to read these books with my children when they are older. There are plenty of mature themes in the books (mainly of violence and abuse) so they are definitely for older teens. I also think the Catholic church is not portrayed at all as it would really be if something like unwinding were to become a reality, which I believe is more due to ignorance of Catholic beliefs than an anti-Catholic bias by the author. That portrayal gives even more to discuss with young Catholics (and probably other Christian denominations as well).

I hope I have written enough to make you rush out to your library or bookstore and read these books but not so much to give away any spoilers!

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