Young Adult Lit/Crit

March 20, 2008

Unwind: This book is not about the future, it’s about the present

Filed under: Lit Circle Picks — scrollman @ 7:56 am

Johnson and Freedman make a very important point in chapter six about science fiction as social commentary.  I’d like to elaborate on this point as it concerns Unwind.  While the book might seem absurd and unrealistic in its depiction of a future in which parents and the government have the legal authority to basically murder their children, this is not so far off from the truth.  As I was reading the book, I couldn’t help but think about the way so many children in this country have been “unwound” so to speak, by the system at large, which includes their parents.   These kids have been systematically marginalized and abused for their entire lives, and then punished for rebelling against a status quo that has never accepted them or loved them.   Once so called “at risk” kids reach their teenage years, parents and schools often give up on them, and many wind up in prison or even dead.  For their entire lives, these children have desperately craved love only to be rejected, and ultimately, cast off as dangerous and beyond hope.  When they are imprisoned, it is seen as a necessary sacrifice for the benefit and safety of society as a whole, but society does not take any responsibility for who these children have become.  Like the “storked” children who are passed around from house to house, “at risk” kids are always put off as someone else’s responsibility.   Parents blame the schools, schools blame the parents, everyone blames the government.  But really, we all share some of the blame. In a society, we are all inextricably bound together, and “no man is an islande.”  As Martin Luther King once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”   When our youth suffer, we suffer: as parents, as teachers, as citizens, and most of all, as human beings. 




  1. Jon, it sounds as if you found this book provocative. I’m so glad. It’s generating some buzz. Your post restored my faith in where my YA Lit class has “gone.” SO much to post on with readings this week…thanks for adding your voice to the blog this morning. KES

    Comment by sunyprof — March 20, 2008 @ 8:27 am

  2. Jon,

    This post was so thoughtfilled. You are able to see what so much of our society keeps pretending not to see. I’m glad to know you.


    Comment by joycehansen — March 20, 2008 @ 1:11 pm

  3. What a profound analogy, Jon. Seems to me as though history repeats itself and society doesn’t always learn from its mistakes, huh? What a fascinating book, that in any other circumstance I would not consider reading!


    Comment by jexter1 — March 20, 2008 @ 10:12 pm

  4. I wanted to add two interesting points about the book that came up in our discussion group last night.

    Johnson and Freedman note that adolescents are one of the most oppressed groups. This book comepletely illustrates the power that adults have over young people. As Jonathan note above, Unwind makes this power structure shockingly real. The book also shows how it can be completely abused.

    This book also looks at how selfish humans can be and how we tend to value some lives above others. Some of the teenagers have been deemed troubled, or as they are called in the book “terribles.” In real life, we do this in society all the time. It’s almost as though Shusterman thought, what if we could only abort the kids who would turn out bad- oh wait, we could if we waited to abort them until they were teenagers.


    Comment by allison — March 21, 2008 @ 7:40 am

  5. Jon,

    Thanks for a provocative post. I just ordered this book.

    You write that “once so called ‘at risk’ kids reach their teenage years, parents and schools often give up on them.” I am sad to say that I have seen this happen more often than not. Even in casual conversations about teaching adolescents, I have had people comment, “Oh, there’s not much you can do with them by that point.” I also have to say that early childhood is critical and we certainly see the effects of early childhood in adolescents. However, I can’t help but think of the scene in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian with Junior and his basketball coach:

    “You can do it,” Coach said again. He didn’t shout it. He whispered it. Like a prayer. And he kept whispering again.
    Until the prayer turned into a song. And then, for some magical reason, I believed in him. […] Do you understand how
    amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? (188-189)

    This scene illustrates my point that kids are not “done” when they enter adolescence. There is plenty that we can do with kids at this point. They are still children who value an adult’s validation, support, encouragement and belief in them; and they are becoming adults, who also value these things. So, don’t give up on them. Especially the one’s everyone else has given up on.


    Comment by sostrom — March 21, 2008 @ 12:52 pm

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