By February 7, 2010 0 Comments Read More →

“Organic” Reading

unwindYoung adult novels are underutilized by book groups and that’s a shame. They aren’t just for kids and they have several characteristics that make them outstanding book group choices: they tend to be quick reading, they’re loaded with issues, and they feature strong emotions and relationships in transition. As an added bonus, many book group members love finding new reads they can recommend to children, grandchildren, and other young friends.

My latest young adult find is Unwind by Neal Shusterman. It’s set in an alternate future where the argument between pro-life and pro-choice forces escalated to outright warfare. As a compromise, the two sides accepted a deal where abortion is banned, but parents can choose to have difficult teenagers “unwound,” a euphemism for harvesting all of the teen’s limbs and organs for transplant. If all of the teen’s body is used, the twisted reasoning goes, the teen is still alive and hasn’t been killed.

The novel is told from alternating perspectives, but mostly those of Connor and Risa, two teens scheduled to be unwound, and Lev, another boy whose parents are offering their tenth-born child as a “tithe,” a voluntary, honorary procedure, but one with the same result. As the novel opens, the three go on the run from the juvenile police who would take them to their end.

While some might find the premise a bit fantastic, the ideas and emotions Shusterman taps are real and highly believable. The three protagonists run a gauntlet of nightmarish experiences on the way to a shocking ending. This is a novel marketed to young adults, but sophisticated enough to support adult reading and discussion.never-let-me-go

If you’re interested in a different take (from the adult section) on organ transplants gone wrong, try Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, a heartbreaking tale of three young people in an alternate future where Britain has decided to clone people to make organ transplants readily available. Kept in a boarding school with other cloned children who face the same fate, the tragedy in this book is that most of the kids can’t even conceptualize that their fate is unfair.

A third possibility is Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, in which a girl sues her parents for the right to choose not to donate a kidney to her cancer-plagued sister. Picoult always takes her ideas from the headlines, but her treatment of the issues is on the border of literary fiction and light melodrama, a zone that puts her right in the sweet spot for many book groups.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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