UnWholly, Neal Shusterman

I managed to read one book on my two-week vacation to Australia – one. It might be a record low, but I was so busy petting koalas, trying to figure out if the water in toilets ran in the opposite direction in the southern hemisphere, and learning how to drive on the left side of the road without intermittently screaming that I just couldn’t settle into anything I brought along on the Kindle. I found it much easier to write while I was there, actually, and I spent most mornings regretting that the only computer I brought with me was an iPad; although I normally don’t hate the touch screen keyboard, it’s difficult to write thousands of words in the only position I find convenient to type in on that thing (for the record, balancing it on my knees while sitting in bed or on a couch).

When I finally forced myself to choose something – anything – to read, I ended up with the sequel to UnWind, a fantastic science fiction young adult novel I read last year. I had been anxiously awaiting the release of the sequel (the second book of what I think will be a trilogy), but when it finally came out at the end of August, I didn’t have time to sit down and enjoy it the way I planned. I put it off and put it off until I decided I simply wasn’t going to have opportunity to read a book straight through until December…maybe even January, the way my schedule is looking right now, and I would simply have to live with the fact that this was going to be what I call an “interrupted reading experience.”

Before I quit my teaching job to write fulltime, almost all books were read that way, but I’ve become spoiled in the last two years. I don’t always expect a book to compel me to read it cover to cover in one sitting, but when I have expectations, as I did with UnWholly, I found myself annoyed that it would have to be any other way. As I said, spoiled. The funny thing is, once I started reading, I found that I didn’t want or need to read this one straight through (as I had with the first book). I often have this problem with the second book in a series, regardless of how many books are slated to follow. I find that I’ve worked myself into a lather over a book that is either a pale ripoff of the first or a bridge to the third. This one fell into the latter category.

I was about halfway through it and struggling to connect to characters I had loved in the original novel when I got into a discussion with my best friend (currently living in Sydney – hence the visit) about books we’ve recommended to each other and hated (example rec from me: The Fionavar Trilogy, example rec from her: The Vorkosigan Saga). It was a much more heated conversation than I had been expecting, mainly because 1) we rarely fight, 2) it turns out we have a surprisingly narrow overlapping Venn diagram of taste when it comes to books, and 3) we tend to keep our fanning and our friendship somewhat separate because of reasons 1 and 2. Regardless of reasons 2 and 3, I enjoy talking to her about books and about what makes them special since we have always shared a love of reading, even if we don’t always like the same stories. As a bonus, her intense involvement in fanning communities for the last fifteen years, coupled with a Master’s degree essentially on that subject means she has a fascinating perspective.

This discussion led me to share with her my disappointment in this book I had so anticipated reading. She immediately uncovered the root problem. She asked me, “Did the author create a world you love, or does the book instead revolve around a single, interesting topic? Because if it’s the first, chances are you’ll love the whole series – if it’s the second, you may be in trouble.”  She had nailed it. Shusterman absolutely came up with a brilliant, terrifying idea in the first book, and he told his story about that idea with wonderful characters and a compelling plot. My problem with the second was that the story didn’t provide me with much more than the first had. Also, I felt that the stakes had been lowered in the second book, and since the first was a complete adrenaline rush, it was a let down.

That being said, I’m looking forward to the third one. I can’t stop thinking about this whole “world vs idea” concept, and I find myself hoping that in the final novel, he’ll find a way to bring his big idea into a more fully developed time and place. I also think that although UnWholly is not the book UnWind  managed to be, he has set himself up for a powerful conclusion. Having been so thoroughly impressed by the first novel, and knowing that I’m often more critical of the second, I’ve decided to keep the faith. During a time like this, when women’s health has become a major topic of debate, he is telling an especially important story for a young generation of readers, and I look forward to seeing what he decides to do with this terrifying future he has unleashed.

 

To learn more about Neal Schusterman, head over here.

6 thoughts on “UnWholly, Neal Shusterman

  1. That is a really interesting point your friend had, and I’ll now have to take a look at all the 2nd books that have disappointed me and see if that’s the reason why they disappointed me.

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