Unwholly is the much anticipated sequel to very popular Unwind. As is the problem for many sequels, Unwholly had the reader's expectations lot to live up to. For the most part it's as exciting and thought provoking as the original book. There are a few rough patches and at times it feels as though Shusterman has tried to cram in too many ideas. However, it's worth reading if you are intrigued to hear more of back story and catch up with some of your favourite characters from Unwind.
If you haven't read Unwind I would suggest starting with it before reading this one. Unwholly would probably still make sense on its own, and it has a handy glossary of terms used in the story ("storked", "clapper", "Unwind Accord" etc.) at the front of the book but the characters' fates will mean more to you if you know their history. Unwholly follows many of the characters from the previous book plus a couple of new ones. Connor and Risa appear, still living in the Graveyard (the hiding place for AWOL unwinds) as its leader and medic respectively. Lev is living under the care of his older brother and his beloved Pastor Dan but the arrival of someone connected with his past as a Clapper is set to change all that.
Of the new characters, the most interesting is Cam, a "rewound" or composite person, comprised entirely of parts of unwound children. Cam, whose name is short for Camus (as in existential philosopher Albert Camus), struggles to understand and come to terms with his own existence. Like Frankenstein's monster he was created to be a superman with the best qualities of the hundred or so children who died to create him, such as a baseball player's arms, the legs of a varsity runner, the heart of a boy who could have been an Olympic swimmer and the brain tissue of various geniuses. He didn't ask to exist and finds himself shunned by many people for his strange appearance and frightening origin. The book does not reveal why scientists worked to create him. Possibly, as is suggested by one character, simply because they could.
Another new character is Starkey, a storked (adopted) boy who grew up being continually made to feel less important than his sister because she was their parents' biological child. This unfairness culminated in his parents choosing to have him unwound. Full of rage and bitterness, Starkey wants to hit back at the world that has been so cruel to him and other kids like him. When he arrives at the Graveyard he plots to overthrow Connor and run the place as he sees fit. Starkey is much like Connor was when his parents signed his unwind order, and his natural leadership abilities could be used for good or for ill.
Lev also meets an echo of his past self in Miracolina, a tithe who was conceived to provide stem cells to cure her older brother's cancer. In gratitude for this "miracle" her parents have pledged to "give her back to God" at the age of thirteen. It took ten embryos to produce the one that had the compatible material they needed and according to the laws of the land Miracolina's parents paid nine surrogates to carry the other nine to term, not caring what happened to the babies after that. This is one of many examples of a recurring theme in the book about the far right caring more about the unborn than what happens to children once they are here. Like Lev at the beginning of Unwind, Miracolina genuinely wants to be unwound and has never conceived of any other future for herself. It is up to Lev and his comrades to try and undo this brainwashing and show her that she has a right to live her own life.
Finally there is Nelson, the former Juvey Cop who Connor, the legendary "Akron AWOL" knocked out with his own tranq pistol in Unwind. Nelson now works as a "parts pirate", trapping runaway unwinds and selling them on the black market. Nelson is an exaggerated bogey man whose presence in the narrative detracts from it rather than adding anything worthwhile. The part about him replacing his own eyes with those of children he had captured was unnecessarily lurid.
The book is interspersed with real news articles, including one about how teenagers are demonised by the media and another about organs being harvested from the bodies of people in the Netherlands who have undergone voluntary euthanasia. These are presumably supposed to hint the the events of the story are not as far fetched as they might appear but personally I don't buy into the media hysteria around a lot of topics like this. Slippery slopes usually turn out not to be all that slippery after all.
This book delves into the events which led to unwinding becoming commonplace and who is behind ensuring that it stays that way. If Connor and his friends can uncover these secrets they might just have a shot at putting an end to unwinding once and for all if Nelson or the Juvenile Authority don't get to them first. While somewhat flawed, Unwholly is an exciting story and one which could provoke a lot of interesting book club discussions.
If you are enjoying the series you are in luck because there is also an eBook novella called Unstrung which covers what happened to Lev during his absence in the first book which led him to decide to become a Clapper.