This review contains potentially sensitive
“I’m being unwound?”
Silence. It’s more of an answer than if they had said “yes.”
The social worker reaches over to take Risa’s hand, but Risa pulls it back before she can. “It’s all right to be frightened. Change is always scary.”
“Change?” yells Risa, “What do you mean ‘change’? Dying is a little more than a ‘change.’”
The headmaster’s tie turns into a noose again, preventing blood from getting to his face. The lawyer opens his briefcase.
“Please, Miss Ward. It’s not dying, and I’m sure everyone here would be more comfortable if you didn’t suggest something so blatantly inflammatory. The fact is, 100 percent of you will still be alive, just in a divided state.”
(Pages 23 & 24)
Not too far into the future, scientists create the ultimate solution to the ongoing debate relating to abortion – unwinding. Parents can observe their unwanted children and judge whether they are fit to “unwind” them as teenagers, a process in which a one’s body parts are salvaged and given to others in need. The scientific innovation allows the teen in question to remain alive through their body parts that now reside in other people. This story follows the adventures of three AWOLs (teenagers that have escaped from their unwinding), all with very different backstories and personalities. Connor, an undisciplined and rowdy 16-year-old boy, leaves behind his girlfriend and secretive, unforgiving parents; Risa, a gifted 15-year-old pianist who is a ward of the state, abandons her friends and her dreams of being a talented musician; and Lev, a brainwashed 13-year-old tithe who has been prepared for and awaiting his unwinding since the day he was born, is forced to rethink what he considers normal. The three children desperately attempt to avoid their fate while taking a stand for what is right, but how long can you run from the inevitable?
I’ve been hooked on Neal Shusterman ever since I read “Dry”, which was a collaboration between him and his brother (you can find my review for it HERE). He has such an exclusive writing style, and he raises awareness for modern issues in every text that I’ve read so far. This led me to try out Unwind, and I don’t regret it.
This novel comments on the ethical dilemma of whether all lives are equal (a topic first conversed in George Orwell’s 1945 political allegory “Animal Farm”). Do rebellious adolescents have lesser value than respectful, rule-abiding citizens of the same age? Should their bodies and lives be traded for the needs of others that could possibly be fixed through other kinds of surgery that don’t involve human sacrifice?
I found the general concept of tithing extremely interesting (a tithe is a teenager who has brought up to believe that unwinding is “holy” or “sacred”), as the child in question’s parents have forced propaganda upon them for their entire lives. This is reflected multiple times throughout world history, but this book is set in the future, inferring that this will remain a problem for a long time, which makes sense as it is so difficult to fix. The end to propaganda, however, can be seen in Lev’s character – he begins the story as a misinformed, unenlightened tithe but as the storyline progresses, he finds himself fighting for a much better cause. This gives humankind hope for the eradication of propaganda.
This story isn’t sexually inappropriate but understanding the concept of taking away a teenager’s body parts without their permission requires a great deal of empathy. Some younger readers may not have the emotional capabilities to put themselves in the characters’ shoes and consider what they are going through, especially in a surgery scene where the process of unwinding is graphically described. The audience must try to understand some of the words that are exclusive to the series (unwinding, tithing, clappers and storking to name a few) and some people may find this confusing. Because of this, I recommend Unwind to anyone aged 14 and over.
This novel is so gripping and unpredictable that I couldn’t put it down until I had read the entire thing. I moved directly onto the second instalment in the dystology (Unwholly), and I’m currently waiting for the third book to arrive in the mail. The characters are all so unique with fascinating backstories, and Neal Shusterman writes so well. I would give it 8 stars out of 10.
Simon and Schuster Books
Life is short. Go and enjoy it. And remember that diamonds and other ‘valuable’ stuff only have the meaning that we give them. And by that logic, money only has the meaning that we give it, too. Yes, we need it. And yes, it can make us happier. But not as happy as we might assume.
Turia Pitt’s latest read focusses on the ideal goal of complete happiness. She questions its achievability through intelligent metaphors, references to life experiences and colourful interviews with well-known authors and other celebrities.
I have such strong admiration for this woman and upon reading this book I have reconsidered my role models and put her at the top of the list. Ever since I can remember, I have been terrified of fire and smoke inhalation and I cannot even imagine what it would have been like to be completely trapped by it. I appreciate Pitt’s resilience and her relentless approach to beating the burns and getting back out in public again. She learnt to love herself again and I respect that.
This novel is divided into many chapters, all dedicated to a different approach to the achievement of happiness. The first three of these are related to gratitude, morning routines and zest, and the second inspired me to get up earlier and go on walks with my family, proving how inspirational Turia Pitt really is.
Found in the “money” chapter, the quote at the beginning of this review captured my attention because during the COVID-19 crisis and its economic aftermath, I have been questioning the value of money and whether it can truly buy happiness. It has caused such loss for so many people and so Pitt views money as a necessity that can make us feel good, but never completely content. That part is caused by time with those you love and that wonderful feeling you get when you achieve a goal – or a “champy,” as Pitt calls it.
One of the things I love the most about this book is the way the author relates the advice to personal experience. For example, in the chapter titled “self-love”, Pitt briefly talks about a grumpy train station server that she tried to buy a ticket from. She could not fit her hand under the Perspex, kindly letting the man keep the change – and he had the nerve to scream at her. Pitt then recounts that she immediately burst into tears. Afterwards, she explains that self-love is heavily misunderstood – you can still be self-conscious in the moment (like at the train station) and simultaneously love yourself.
It is difficult to give this book an age rating, mainly because it has advice that suits everyone. However, because of the cursing and a few sexual references, I recommend Happy (and Other Ridiculous Aspirations) to readers aged 13+
I have never read an entire novel of the “self-improvement” genre, but in this instance, I was hooked from the beginning by Pitt’s hilarious attitude and overall outlook on life. I will definitely be checking out her other reads in the future and rate this novel 9 ½ stars out of 10.
Publisher: Ebury Press
ISBN: 978 1 76089 288 3
“...It’s like being swept away to a whole new world.”
“Starworld,” she says, a corner of her mouth quirking upward.
“Starworld,” I repeat, a small smile finding its way to my face. “I like it.”
This is possibly my favourite book of all time, and I have no idea why I haven’t reviewed it yet - so here it is.
When popular and optimistic Zoe Miller becomes interested in awkward and shy Sam Jones’s unique artworks, the two girls realise that they have more in common than they may have previously thought. With both families being majorly affected by mental illness and other troubles, Zoe and Sam break social boundaries and create their own fantastical escape, named Starworld. However, when Sam finds herself developing a romantic interest in her new best friend, many questions are poised. Is it really friendship, or is it more? Does Zoe feel the same way? And importantly, will this cause Starworld to be ruined forever?
Coulthurst and Garners’ tragic tale of friendship, unrequited love and mental illness switches perspective with every chapter. This allows insight into the characters’ personal home lives and thoughts, and it directly contrasts their issues and personalities. This way, readers can connect with characters on a deeper level. Every situation was perceived in completely different ways by both Zoe and Sam, and this allows the reader to further understand them, hence building a better story.
Many commonly stigmatized topics are mentioned within this novel, and I applaud the authors for approaching them realistically and sentimentally, simultaneously. Among the things spoken of in Starworld are mental disorders including obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety, and health problems such as breast cancer. Sam is also struggling with her sexuality, and when shoved into a heteronormative society, it is difficult for her to determine her true feelings.
Disability is a main part of Starworld’s plot. Zoe’s brother Jonah suffers a severe disability, and he is even sent away from his home because of it. This majorly impacts Zoe, especially as she is in senior year, a time for studying and thinking about one’s future. With the added responsibility of caring for Jonah, Zoe feels overwhelmed, and ableism makes the entire situation even more difficult for her.
While Zoe is good at hiding her emotions, Sam is more quiet, and she hides under her dark hoodies to escape attention. Both girls hardly ever divulge private information to anybody, making their friendship even more special. With their magical escape of Starworld, they can escape their problems and launch themselves into mystical adventures with riddles and a dragon named Humphrey.
Starworld contains some extremely confronting issues, including severe mental and physical illness, disabilities, pregnancy loss and more. One needs the emotional capacity that is necessary to deal with an ending that led me almost to tears, there are also some sexual references and swearing is relatively common. For these reasons, I recommend this novel to teenagers aged 14+
I truly enjoyed this book. It explores and discusses so many themes, and I was a complete wreck by the end of the story, as the characters are so likeable and kind. I give this beautiful tale of love and loss ten bookbolts out of ten.
PUBLISHER: Candlewick Press
Rather than be searched by hand, I chose to walk through the metal detector without my cart or my tank or even the plastic nubbins in my nose. Walking through the X-ray machine marked the first time I’d taken a step without oxygen in some months, and it felt pretty amazing to walk unencumbered like that, stepping across the Rubicon, the machine’s silence acknowledging that I was, however briefly, a nonmetallicized creature.
Hazel is sixteen years old, and lives with an oxygen tank and a BiPAP machine. In other words, she has a cancer that could end her life at any given moment. She is alone and believes she will live out her days at home.
Augustus Waters is seventeen and bears only one leg due to the effects of cancer. He is addicted to metaphor and overanalyses every situation. His greatest fear is oblivion.
The two survivors meet at a support group for cancer victims and slowly fall in love with each other. Can people with severe illnesses achieve true happiness with so many obstacles in their path?
This book intrigued me from the beginning, especially with its exclusively interesting characters and well-constructed, deep thoughts. Hazel constantly finds herself wondering about death and its repercussions, especially in relation to her illness. I have these ponderings, too; I have always wondered what happens after a person’s passing.
While I can’t relate to any of the characters in this novel as they are going through such tough ordeals, I can emotionally connect to them in a strange, unexplainable way. They react to situations in the same way that I would (except they deal with some things more bravely than I ever could).
I found the reality of this book fascinating. When Hazel and Augustus fly to Amsterdam to meet author Peter Van Houten, they are expecting an all-knowing, responsible man able to answer all of their questions. What they find is a drunken, old guy with strong opinions and disrespect for most existing life forms.
John Green is a New York Times bestselling author, and after reading this book, I was inspired to try out some of his other novels – such as Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns. After lockdown is over, I’ll definitely be heading straight to the school library to wolf these down like the chocolate I’ve become so close to.
I completed The Fault in Our Stars in less than two nights. By the time I had finished the novel, I was drowning in emotion and I’m now desperately begging for a sequel. Just like Hazel and Augustus’s collective interest in An Imperial Affliction, I would love to know what happens to the characters as the novel finishes after a terrible occurrence. This leaves the characters that I have come to know so well, depressed as a dimmed star. Therefore, I give this novel a well-earned 9 ½ bookbolts out of 10.
The Fault in Our Stars has some sad themes including a death of a loved one, and there is a sex scene (nothing graphic, however). This influenced my decision to recommend this book to readers aged 13+.
PUBLISHER: Penguin Random House
“Mallory tugs at the sleeves of her oversized shirt as she watches me. I try not to be obvious about snatching glimpses of her face. There’s little hint of the grinning kindergartner from her MISSING posters all those years ago. Her skin is dull and waxy now, her hair lank. She curls her shoulders defensively as though warding off some kind of threat.
But it’s her eyes that seize hold of me, crystal clear and evaluating. There are questions there, and a sea of answers too. It sparks an urge in me to shake her, demand to know how she disappeared. Did she wander off? Was she taken?
Did I really imagine him, Mallory?
Please tell me my mind isn’t that sick!”
When Tash was eight years old and temporarily staying at her aunt’s house, a child named Mallory Fisher was abducted from a carnival and Tash saw her imaginary friend Sparrow take her. No one believed Tash, not even her parents and she was sent into therapy. She was then told that she was lying and attention-seeking, as her mother was in hospital pregnant with a son. Nine years after the incident, the Fishers are back in town and Mallory is now mute because of the trauma she had suffered. Tash revisits her aunt’s house and Sparrow reappears. But is he real? Is Tash as crazy as everyone believes? And most of all… can Tash trust herself?
Small Spaces is a psychological thriller, and it is completely different to what I was expecting. Previously, I had thought that the genre was confusing and boring, as I didn’t understand how a book could be both chilling and intelligent. The events in this novel could happen in real life, too – I can’t say without spoiling, but knowing this made it even harder to read the book at night.
Tash is such a rare character, as she is a storyteller with mental health issues. This makes it hard for the reader to know whether or not to believe her. The story is therefore unique, as normally, a narrator is reliable. Honestly, I have never come across a book like this.
This novel has a few minor concepts which could disturb younger readers – a girl is snatched from a carnival, Tash’s imaginary friend looks terrifying and Tash often feels alone and misunderstood. Some terms such as “dyke” are used in an offensive way against Tash’s homosexual friend Sadie. A drug addiction is central to the storyline. Therefore, I recommend Small Spaces to readers aged 13+.
Small Spaces is like a rollercoaster, as it is riddled with twists and turns. I really enjoyed the plot twist towards the end of this novel, and the way that Tash couldn’t even trust herself is so clever. I love how the characters change and reveal things about themselves throughout the storyline. I give Small Spaces ten bookbolts out of ten.
ISBN: 978 1 921977 38 1
PUBLISHER: Walker Books Australia Pty Ltd