G.I.F.T : The Third Installment – Unsouled (with recap on the second installment – Unwholly)

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Yes, the thrilling series continues to unfold into a trilogy. Nothing to obsess over, of course. With this novel, comes a deeper insight into the hauntingly sinister plot of the series, the continued adventures of our favorite trio, accompanied by the tales of a few ragtag accomplices, fellow AWOLs, and additions to their never-ending list of hitmen.
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The trio, so close to being reunited, has split up once again with the third addition of the dystology. Unlike the previous novel, which started out with Risa and Connor’s portrayal of a Bonnie and Clyde duo, now Lev has succeeded in replacing Risa and playing incognito with Connor. Of course, I trust you should retain the right amount of  common sense to know that enough events have transpired to explain how Bonnie suddenly morphed into a shorter blond boy –– whose previous purpose in life was to see to his own divine summary division.

With our three protagonists residing in their respective refuge –– Connor and Risa in the airplane graveyard and Lev in his lawfully-imposed house arrest, things couldn’t be much simpler for them. For Connor and Risa, the light at the end of the tunnel is their 18th, or rather 17th birthday (as the maximum age to be retroactively aborted had been pushed down as of the recent “Cap-17” law) whereby they can return to society under fake identities to resume a somewhat normal life. However, they selflessly choose to maintain a continued residence at the AWOL sanctuary under guided instruction that Connor (presumed dead by the world) be in charge of the graveyard and Risa be the chief medic. For Lev –– though it’s a long road up ahead ––  if he can remain liable to no allegations in relation to the criminal record of his past and abide by his current sentence of house arrest and community service, he may find the semblance of a regular life under the guardianship of his older brother who unlike his parents has no such outrageous convictions on religion such as their take on tithing.

But now we have one more character to be taken into account. Dropped off on a stranger’s doorstep as a mere infant, Mason Michael Starkey, a stork (an unwanted child), was raised reluctantly by a couple of very distinguished physical appearance, attesting to the fact for the lack of genetic relation between the child and parent. Driven to survive after kicking AWOL, he manages to stray away from the authorities and into a safehouse chain run by the ADR. Coupled with his charming personality and persuasion skills, he manages to state a position as the alpha male among fellow AWOL brethren until his destination at the airplane graveyard. Ecstatic to meet his one and only teenage idol Connor Lassiter, he is thoroughly disappointed by how a simple teenager had been hyped up to be America’s Most Wanted. With besting Connor becoming his personal mission, Starkey soon rallies up support amongst the stork population of the graveyard and leads them to revolt for their rights and superiority. Inundated with the daily responsibilities of running the graveyard, lacking support from the ADR, unaffordable of a steady relationship with his one true love Risa, and constantly worrying about the possibility of the Juvenile Authority swooping down on them, Starkey’s motives and plans to dethrone Connor are only making it futile to allow him to retain his sanity.

Amidst the brewing tension, by an unfortunate turn of events, Risa finds herself in the clutches of Proactive Citizenry –– the mysterious organization responsible for creating Camus Comprix (the humanoid nonhuman made of every perfect human quality except human). Initially uncooperative, she is forced into submission when she is dealt a deal, one that would grant the airplane graveyard immunity and secrecy from the Juvenile Authority, so long as she shows acquiescence to their orders and the deal –– which includes a clause stating she must accept a spine transplant for her invalidity. With their orders comes the necessity for her to publicly betray her past and morals,  be alongside Camus, and display him in the limelight in front of the public’s eyes.

Meanwhile, Lev faces retribution by those higher up behind the clapper’s activities, simply because he did not clap. With his brother fatally injured, and him being disowned by his parents, he covertly joins the Cavenaugh Trust, a foundation working to benefit wayward youth, specifically tithes initially predisposed to embrace their unwinding and now aware of their past condemnation. There, he is instated as a savior to all the ex-tithes, a guiding force representing hope. One particular tithe however, is determined in her ways, so when she finally escapes from the residence housing them, she is surprisingly joined by the superior ex-tithe himself, Lev, a devil in her eyes hindering tithes from their “divine purpose in life.”

Devoid of any purpose posing as a leader for tithes, he resigns to escaping for a life on the run. Soon a parts-pirate (black market bounty hunters) on his hunt for Connor discovers the two escapees and uses Lev to get to the grand prize. Resourcefully, they manage to estray from their captor, only to lead him to the airplane graveyard where Lev goes to warn Connor. However, the sight that meets them there is not a seemingly calm graveyard of decommissioned airplanes, but a real graveyard of AWOL unwinds standing up for their last sanctuary, for the Juvenile Authority has finally proven Connor’s worries to be true. However, Connor did have the insight of preparing for such an onslaught, only to be treacherously backstabbed as Starkey. Power hungry and opportunity-seeking, he sets his priorities straight and leads his storks out of the mayhemic armageddon of the graveyard by stealing Connor’s escape plan and  flying off on an unofficially recommissioned Dreamliner, leaving the rest of the AWOLs to their inevitable fate under the knife.

Believing the takedown of the graveyard to be Proactive Citizenry’s work, Risa does not hesitate in publicly revealing how she was blackmailed by them to the public. Astonishingly, Camus (with his shortcomings) has come to be an ally of Risa’s and surreptitiously aids her in her escape after she double-crossed Proactive Citizenry. For Connor, salvation yet again reaches him in the form of his favorite blonde ex-tithe. So now they’re back on the road and once again on the run, but this time with a clearer destination and purpose. For all its arcanely cryptic secretiveness, Proactive Citizenry’s confidentialities may be able to be unearthed through a past acquaintance –– an old woman who once took them in as part of the ADR. This woman is uncovered to have been the late wife of Janson Rheinschild, the nobel-prize winner responsible for pioneering neurografting, and founder of proactive citizenry –– whose memory was almost thoroughly wiped out from existence until Connor discovered an article under his misspelled name.

Don’t worry though. I may have completely annihilated, vaporized, stomped on, and ruined the story for you, but I am also one of those horrible people (as if I aren’t already) who like mixing skittles up with m&ms and leaving out key points within the plot summary.

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With the third installment comes a soulful (Get it? Soulful and “unsouled?” I am not ashamed of what I just did…) experience that may just leave you like this:
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For now, Connor and Lev are stuck singing “99 cartons of milk on the wall” on their road trip to Akron, Ohio, the place everything transpired. The place where the trio first became a trio. The place Connor came to be known as the notorious Akron AWOL. The place where Sonia Rheinschild harbored AWOL unwinds in the basement of her antique shop. But, it’s a long way to Akron from the Arizona desert by car. Lately, surviving in a sanctuary for this long has made Connor rusty in his skills of evasiveness, so before long he already attracts a crazy fan desperate to become known in the history books as Connor’s very own sidekick. Like I said, he is a fanatic lunatic. Meanwhile, Risa is stuck living on the streets, straying from bottom feeders and overall, the public eye. Starkey for all his rash and treacherous acts, brought about by his misguided egomaniacal persona, has not yet received his “just desserts.” Currently he’s hiding out with his fellow storks in the most concealed possible way –– in plain sight under the guise of a summer camp or scholastic academy, because no one would bat an eye at a uniformly collective group of teens seemingly venturing on field trips. However, his plans for himself and his storks won’t just be ending there. Camus himself may be living it up in paradise, with caviar and lobster for brunch and lavish dinner parties being his nightlife, but without Risa things aren’t the same for him anymore.

Being with Risa even for a short time has turned him into the paradigm of Belle’s Beast. For now, you could say that he is somewhat the oxymoron of himself, and not the monster you would think he is. He is aware of his existence as a whole, and the people who could have continued to exist, now a part of him. Within himself he contains devouts of almost every possible religion, be it Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Taoism, and so on. Yet not one of them explicitly tell him of his possibility of having a soul. He wasn’t born as a normal human would have, or any organism for that matter. He is made of those unwillingly sacrificed for him. Is he culpable for all those lives made of him? Is he to be blameworthy for his own existence? Even if he could possibly atone for such sins, will he able to evade eternal damnation? Is he even worthy of a soul for such condemnation? These are the questions which plague him day and night and without Risa’s companionship, he’s starting to lose his own mind and conscience, lacking proper judgement and confusing right and wrong. Proactive Citizenry isn’t making it any easier for him, cajoling and manipulating him into every one of their plans and actions.

He’s made up his mind however. He knows he must bring down Proactive Citizenry to prove to Risa of his love. Because without Risa, he fears of becoming the monster he’s worth at the hands of his creators.

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Three books into the series, it is still very difficult to believe such atrocities faced by teens of unwind universe have the capability to manifest themselves in our relatively stable world (who am I kidding, we’re all gonna die!!!). Yet that’s why Neal Shusterman is a force to be reckoned with. Within the novels Shusterman strategically places documents of evidence referring to articles on various topics true to our world, regarding abortion laws and rights, attesting to the black market of illegally solicited organs, and reporting on the mishandled abuse of teens sent to reform school. There was even a crazy one on eBay’s response to a guy trying to auction his soul (assuredly, the reply being remarkably witty). Such accounts only work to make such an unconvincingly distant dystopia that much more plausible for our own world. It may start with the abortion talks we’re having now, but sooner or later, it might just be the spark needed to excuse the use of arms against each other, paving a way for our very own Heartland War.

Suffice it to say, Shusterman has not disappointed us with his third edition of the YA dystopian novel series, and even manages to prove himself a novelist well worthy of publishing romance, evidenced by the love triangle between Connor, Risa, and Cam. What’s not to like in a book riddled with ethical controversy, teenage angst, a survival rate, and the ever-cliche yet eternally maddening cliffhanger?

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Words by SJ

Images by http://www.amazon.co.uk/Unsouled-Unwind-Dystology-Neal-Shusterman/dp/1442423692 , http://www.buzzfeed.com/apentak720/19-times-the-spongebob-squarepants-movie-was-the-1b817 , http://giphy.com/gifs/reaction-christmas-evil-9zth6WzmmuYM0 , http://funnyjunk.com/comment/anonymous/content/4060870/-5/1/parent_id/20/3 , http://s739.photobucket.com/user/taylorsgirl17/media/tumblr_mm2bqlnKPg1sneblxo1_500_zps08d2469d.gif.html , http://gbookhooked.blogspot.com/2013_03_01_archive.html

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