In the future, a war is fought over reproductive rights. As a result, the sides reach a chilling compromise. Abortion is made illegal, but from the time a child turns 13 until s/he turns 18, unwanted kids, troubled kids. etc. can be signed over to be “unwound” and have their organs, limbs, every part of them redistributed for replacement parts in others. Three children who are destined to be unwound manage to escape, and the novel centers on them and their attempts to avoid the authorities and stay alive.
The book primarily alternates chapters from the perspective of the three main characters, with occasional chapters from minor characters thrown in. There is Connor, a troubled kid with a bad temper whose own parents have decided to have him unwound. There is Risa, who is a parentless ward of the state and is being unwound due to budget concerns. And then there is Lev, whose ultra-religious parents have raised him from birth to be a ‘tithe,’ a child who is given over to be unwound for religious purposes and is willingly going along with the plan until he encounters Connor and Risa.
It’s a sad premise and you genuinely do start to feel sorry for these kids, even the ones who you should, in theory, dislike. Most of these kids have fairly ordinary problems common to adolescents and are getting a raw deal. There was one scene involving a character who was scheduled for unwinding and a person who received parts from an unwound that actually made me cry. It’s truly sad to think of these kids being given up on by society, and in some cases their own parents. It reminded me of the law in Nebraska that allows parents to abandon their minor children at hospitals to become wards of the state, only much, much worse. The book makes you question what kind of a parent would give up their own child to have their parts distributed to keep others alive (unwinding is not seen as dying), and gives you no answers. Only a sense of deep disgust. It also makes you wonder how you would handle being a 16 year old who had suffered the worst type of betrayal by your parents, the system, society, etc. and had to run and hide just to survive.
I was so engrossed in this book that I read nearly the entire thing in one sitting. The ending left the door open for a second book, and I was happy to see that a second one is planned for release late next year. Four years in between seems like a long time, so hopefully the second will be as good as the first. Highly recommended.