Running For Their Lives

Neal Shusterman/ Simon & Schuster/ 2007/ 335 pages

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Connor Lassiter- 16 year old unwind who has managed to escape the authorities. He's trying to survive until he is 18, then it will be illegal for him to be unwound.

Risa Ward- 13 year old pianist, unwind, and Connor's love interest. They meet after Connor caused a bus carrying unwinds like her to crash, allowing her time to escape, indirectly saving her life.

Lev Calder- 13 year old tithe, meaning he was born to be unwound, and wants to. He gets kidnapped by Connor to act as a human shield for him. When Connor finds out he's a tithe, he keeps him, saving his life.

Cyrus Finch- A boy who ran away, who has a right temporal lobe that used to belong to an unwind, and the thoughts and memories of that kid mix with Cyrus's. He meets Lev after Lev had split up with Connor and Risa.


Imagine if you lived in a world where you could be unwound. When you're unwound, your body parts and organs get taken out, and put into different bodies. If your parents don't want you, or you were raised to be like this from the start, this can happen. This is the result of the second Civil War, which was fought over reproductive rights. The resolution was the child has to be kept alive from conception until age thirteen, then they can be unwound. This is a story of many unwinds, told from different points of view, but mainly focusing on Connor, Risa, and Lev. They are running from their parents, the authorities, and their fate.

Connor was too difficult for his parents to control, Risa, a ward of the state, is not talented enough to be kept alive. Lev, a tithe, was conceived and raised to be unwound. The story starts from Connor's point of view. When he finds out he is going to be unwound, he runs for it. Then we switch to Risa, she had just finished playing a concert, but she is told she is going to be unwound. She gets on a bus with many other unwinds, and heads for the harvest camp. Then we go to Lev, where he is at his tithing party, the last party of his life. He is slightly nervous, but excited to be unwound. His eldest brother, Marcus, tries to defend Lev, calling tithing unfair, but no one pays attention. Afterwards, He gets in the car with his parents and pastor to go to harvest camp. This is when they meet.

Connor was just caught by the authorities on the freeway. He had caused the bus Risa was riding to crash, allowing her to escape. He had pulled Lev out of his car to shield himself, saying he had a gun and will shoot, even though he didn't. He and Risa ran, carrying Lev with them, when they were caught, Connor turned a cop's own tranq gun on him. They tied Lev up; they knew he was going to try and escape. When they eventually freed him, Lev still didn't trust them. He decided to pretend to cooperate until he could escape, then be unwound.

The trio eventually made it into town, where there was a cop car. To avoid looking suspicious, they boarded a school bus, but not before Connor picked up a baby that was left on a doorstep. He had said that they were looking for two boys and a girl. A baby would throw the cops off. He and Risa pretended to be the parents, much to Risa's annoyance. When they get to the school, they decide to hide in the girls' bathroom until lunch, then hopefully escape. While Connor and Risa are talking, Lev manages to slip away. He turns them all in, and that's when they call the cops. Lev contacts his pastor, who tells him to run, he can be anything he wants to be now. Lev then realizes he made a mistake. He pulls the fire alarm to cause a fiasco, so they can escape. Connor and Risa no longer trust him, and they part ways.

A teacher leads Connor and Risa to a small store where they camp out in a basement along with three other teenagers: Roland, Hayden, and Mai. Roland and Connor instantly don't like each other. A few days later, the woman who had been keeping them in the basement leads them all outside to a truck. Risa gives the baby to the teacher that helped them. For the next three weeks, Every kid is shuffled into different safe houses. Connor and Risa manage to stick together by posing as a couple. They're all finally dumped off at a warehouse.

Meanwhile, Lev met Cyrus Finch, aka CyFi, a boy who ran away from home. He's black, or "Umber," as it's now called. CyFi has the right temporal lobe of an unwind. This lobe is guiding CyFi to Joplin, so that's where he's going. Lev isn't street smart like him, so he tags along. Eventually, they go into one of those Christmas stores, and CyFi steals a bauble. He runs, like he's having a meltdown. The kid that used to have CyFi's right temporal lobe liked stealing things, and that caused CyFi to steal without thinking about it, and he can't take it anymore. He tells Lev to hide everything he stole, and make sure he never sees it again. Lev buries everything; except for a single diamond bracelet. He uses it as a bargaining chip to get CyFi to tell him everything. He does. Lev promises him he will help him get to Joplin.

Connor is the talk of the warehouse, but not really. There's a rumor of the Akron AWOL, a runaway unwind who turned a cop's own tranq gun on him. No one knows it's Connor.

Roland turns up at the warehouse, and that's when the trouble starts. Everyone knows Connor is Roland's biggest threat, and they want Connor to do something about that. However, a fight is just what Roland wants. He wants to kill Connor.

At Christmas, Roland harasses Risa in the bathroom. Connor doesn't do anything; because it was supposed to get him mad. Roland wanted Connor to go into a rage. Risa is still mad at him afterward.

Lev goes to a pawnshop to try and sell the bracelet to get money, He tricks the pawnbroker into leading him to the safe, then knocking him out, stealing the money, but leaving the bracelet. The bracelet was worth much more than he stole anyway.

Everyone in the warehouse is loaded into crates, which are put on a plane. Connor gets put into a crate with Hayden, Emby, and Diego. They all talk about personal things and being unwound.

Once the plane lands, They find themselves in "the Graveyard." a rumor is going around that five boys suffocated in a crate. Luckily, Connor wasn't one of them. The Graveyard is run by The Admiral. They're led to a place where they are fed and given fresh clothes. Risa finally feels that there is some hope.

Meanwhile, Lev reaches Joplin with CyFi. The other kid is slowly taking over CyFi's head. They each the kid's house, where they find out the kid's name was Tyler. He's Cy-Ty. Cy's dads are there too. Cy digs up a suitcase in his backyard. Everything Tyler ever stole is in there. He begs Tyler's parents to not unwind him, Tyler doesn't understand he's already gone. When they don't say anything, Lev threatens them. They finally promise. As Cy is calming down, Lev runs away.

Back at the Graveyard, Each kid is given a job. Risa is a medic, Connor is a mechanic. Roland is trying to get others to not trust The Admiral. People are starting to think his teeth are from another unwind, and he'll harvest other unwinds for body parts. Connor is still thinking about this when Lev arrives. All seems to be forgiven.

Connor and The Admiral have a chat. The Admiral's teeth are actually dentures. He then leads Connor to the jet with the crates. All five of the Goldens-- the unwinds in charge of affairs in the graveyard-- are dead inside one of the crates. They suffocated, just like the five boys on the way there. Connor thinks Roland did it. They don't tell anybody.

Connor and The Admiral have another secret chat. The Admiral fought in the war on reproductive rights. The scars that Connor thought were transplant scars were from a grenade. He talks about the war; and how the idea of unwinding came to be. He had his own son unwound. He had changed his mind after they signed the order, but it was too late. He didn't want to make that mistake again, so that's when he started the graveyard.

Lev gets into a group with Cleaver, Blaine, and Mai. He wants to make the world pay for unwinding.

Risa is worried about Connor and Lev. Connor wants to protect Risa. They start an actual relationship.

Lev and Risa have a talk about how Risa wants the old Lev back, not the tough, creepy Lev he is now.

Cleaver holds a work call. There's a job opening in Alaska. Blaine, Mai, and Lev volunteer. Risa doesn't want him to leave, but she can't stop him.

Emby and the Admiral have a talk. Emby is going to be taken to meet the Admiral's ex-wife. He has the lung of the Admiral's son.

People start to notice Emby's disappearance. They're starting to be convinced The Admiral did something to him.

Connor leads Roland to a jet and locks him in a crate so they can talk about the Goldens' death.

A search party for Emby finds the Goldens' graves. They think The Admiral killed them. A riot breaks out. They try to break into The Admiral's jet.

Meanwhile, Connor is trying to get Roland to confess to killing the Goldens. Roland claims he's innocent. Hayden finds Connor and tells him about the riot. The kids had beaten up Cleaver pretty bad. It's then revealed that he killed the Goldens, not Roland, but he said there was more. He dies before he can say anything else. Kids are still storming The Admiral's jet. Connor manages to get them back to their senses. They open the hatch and find Risa; she had been trying to keep kids out. The Admiral is having a heart attack. They need to get him to a hospital, but Cleaver, who was the helicopter pilot, is dead. However, he had been training Roland.

Once they get the Admiral to the hospital, he doesn't want a transplant from unwinds. He wants it done the older way. In the confusion, Roland tells a nurse to call the cops, he's turning them all in. Including everyone in the Graveyard.

Apparently, the cops know about the Graveyard, and they let it happen. It keeps runaway unwinds off the streets. Roland finds out that Connor was the Akron AWOL. They're all hauled away to Happy Jack Harvest Camp.

At the harvest camp, Risa joins the band. They play on top of the place where the unwinding takes place, or "the Chop Shop" This keeps her protected from being unwound immediately. Everyone is amazed the Akron AWOL, aka Connor, is there.

Connor and Roland have a fight. Roland nearly kills him, but he doesn't.

Lev is also at Happy Jack, but for a different reason. He has become a clapper, like Blaine and Mai. A clapper is kind of like a suicide bomber. Their blood is explosive-- literally.

Roland gets taken to the Chop Shop... And gets unwound.

Connor is called to the Chop Shop to be unwound. Instead of being dragged there, he marches there on his own.

Blaine and Mai detonate themselves in the Chop Shop just as Connor goes in. Lev doesn't. Instead, he goes into the wreckage and pulls out survivors, including Risa, who was on the roof. Connor lost an eye and an arm, and Risa got her spine crushed. A riot breaks out. The guards are overwhelmed.

Connor wakes up in a hospital. He is given a new identity. The ID of a guard with the picture charred off was found in the wreckage. His new name is E. Robert Mullard. With this new identity, he can no longer be unwound. He was given a new eye and arm. The arm belonged to Roland.

Risa is paralyzed from the waist down. As long as she stays like that, she can no longer be unwound.

Lev's face is on every magazine. The clapper who didn't clap. The explosives are slowly being drained out of his bloodstream. They can't get rid of all of it, though, so he can't be unwound. His pastor visits him in prison where he's being held for the time being. He says that CyFi has been testifying unwinding before congress. Everyone is becoming more aware of the unfairness. Lev has put a face on unwinding, and everyone is starting to see it.

Emby is at The Admiral's house, along with many other people. These people have the body parts of The Admiral's son, Harlan Dunfee. The Admiral and his ex-wife finally have their son back.

Connor is now in charge of the Graveyard. He is running things differently. They will be a force to be reckoned with. They will infiltrate harvest camps, take over buses, and unite unwinds across the country. They will make themselves heard.


It's a struggle to survive in a world where they are unwanted. Every unwind is trying to stay alive and whole.


"I am lost in every possible way." This is what Lev thinks after he realizes he doesn't have to be unwound. He has been torn from what he thought was his purpose. This is a turning point in Lev's story. He no longer wants to be unwound, and now he is lost, just like every other runaway. This turning point majorly contributes to the plot because it keeps him alive. If he had not had this turning point he would have been willingly unwound.


I enjoyed the book because it had events that kept you wondering what would happen next. There are plot twists around every corner, for instance, Roland being unwound. I also enjoy that there is some humor sprinkled in as well. However, I think Connor and Risa's relationship could have been more developed, it seemed rather rushed. I also think the story could have explored Cyrus's character a little bit more. Overall, Unwind is a thrilling and intense read that I thoroughly enjoyed.