Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Neal Schusterman's Unwind Chapters 20-21

This section contains high-grade weirdness, so just be warned.

Chapter 20

Not too weird. Sonia ships her underground railroad group off to another stop on the railroad, but first the teacher Hannah shows up to take the baby off Risa's hands. She's going to adopt it -- which here in this world just means claiming she was storked.

No checks into Hannah's background, or her husband's background, or how she plans to parents, or where she's living, or if she can afford a child. In Schusterman's world, adopting a child is like adopting a kitten, which is about what babies are worth in this world, apparently.

Also, why did Hannah wait to come get the baby at the very last minute?

You got me.

Risa thinks about the hundreds of babies that Ohio Home Number Four, which it had been her job to help feed and change -- there was no time and no staffing for any real caring.

“In a place like this you have to practice triage,” [Nurse Greta] told Risa, referring to how, in an emergency, a nurse had to choose which patients would get medical attention. “Love the ones you can,” Nurse Greta told her. “Pray for the rest.” 

I hope Schusterman is going to explain at some point why people who get storked can't just ditch the unwanted infant at a home. How are Home infants different from Storked infants?

Part Three of the book starts with an actual 'news' story from 2006, which was in fact published by the BBC, about how parents at a Ukrainian hospital claimed their healthy newborns were being taken from them by the hospital and murdered. The hospital agreed to allow the bodies of  about 30 "foetuses and full-term babies from a cemetery used by the maternity hospital" to be exhumed, and someone sent the BBC footage of bodies that had been dismembered and were missing organs, "including brains."

This news story was picked up by "Pro-Life" propaganda sites, including the always stellar LifeNews, as evidence that "liberals" were murdering their babies for their organs.

That's clearly what Schusterman wants us to believe as well -- that these fetuses and newborns were killed for their organs.

We're reminded of the faked videos put out by David Daleiden claiming Planned Parenthood was selling fetal organs for profit. I see no further mention of these Ukrainian baby-murders anywhere on any reputable site, and suspect this "story" is as much propaganda as Daleiden's was.

Schusterman, however, obviously believes it's the stone truth. So if you thought he had any intellectual credibility....

Chapter 21

We're back with Lev, and this is such a bizarre chapter.

Schusterman tackles not just gay marriage but racism. And it would be hilarious if it wasn't appalling.

Lev has been taken under the wing of a Magical Negro -- wait, I mean a Magical Umber.

Umber because this is how Schusterman solves racism in America. See "this artist" started painting "people of African ancestry in the Deep South," and the paint color he used most was Umber. So everyone started calling black people "Umbers" and presto! That solved racism.

Me: "Oh, my God."

Anyway! This new character is a kid who seems about sixteen named Cyrus Finch, though he calls himself "CyFi."

What's a Magical Negro? It's a black character (occasionally some other minority character, such as an Asian or a disabled person or an immigrant or a "sassy gay friend") who is put in the story to help the real person -- the white main character -- on their spiritual journey.

The Magical Negro speaks in folksy language, using folksy tales to teach the white character the lessons they need to learn. Magical Negros usually come from poverty or some other "inferior" background, which of course is more "real" than the privileged background of our white character. (See, their experience has been "real," whereas the white character is "spoiled" or "soft," coming as they do from a not-real world.)

Magical Negros often have "funny" names, to emphasize the nature of their Otherness. They're so wacky, those people.

Magical Negros exist only to help white people. They have no agency or desires of their own. They're servants -- in fact, the first Magical Negros were often slaves. CF Uncle Remus, or Uncle Tom from Uncle Tom's Cabin. 

Eva with her Magical Negro Uncle Tom 

CyFi speaks in a faux-black dialect.

Schusterman lampshades this by having CyFi admit he doesn't speak AAVE naturally.

[Lev says]"You’re speaking wrong on purpose.” 
“Wrong? What makes it wrong? ... I ain’t appreciating you disrespecting my patois. 

But he's careful to make it clear that one sort of English dialect (American Broadcast Standard) is "right" while other kinds (such as AAVE) are "wrong."

“Sure, I can talk like you," [CyFi says], "but I choose not to. It’s like art, you know? Picasso had to prove to the world he can paint the right way, before he goes putting both eyes on one side of a face, and noses stickin’ outta kneecaps and stuff. See, if you paint wrong because that’s the best you can do, you just a chump. But you do it because you want to? Then you’re an artist.”

See, AAVE is just "wrong" English. Not a dialect with its own grammar, wordstock, and rules for pronunciation. Nah. Just "bad" English.

This is how people who think they know something about how language works describe non-standard dialects -- just in case you thought Schusterman knew anymore about linguistics than he did about evaluating sources. (See also Dunning-Kruger Syndrome.)

Back to the plot!

CyFi is teaching Lev how to live off the land, more or less, which means charming people into giving them food (Magical Negros are always wily and charming) and breaking into abandoned houses and other buildings to find shelter for the night.

As is always the case with the Magical Negro trope, the student becomes the master -- Lev is soon better at finding food and shelter for them than Cyfi was, even though he's two or three years younger and ignorant as dirt. Because white genes are superior, obviously.

Magical Negros also often have supernatural powers, and CyFi has something like that -- he had a bad bike wreck and since kids in the Unwind world don't wear helmets, he damaged his brain.

But his two dads bought him a new temporal lobe from an Unwind to replace the damaged part.

(Wait, two dads? Yeah, gimme a minute.)

This new temporal lobe takes control of CyFi's will and body, making him do things, like shoplift, and walk to Joplin, Missouri. That's what Lev and CyFi are doing in this chapter -- walking to Joplin, because the kid who used to own the temporal lobe wants CyFi to go there.

Lev knows all about brain tissue grafts, by the way:

Lev knows about that. His sister Cara has epilepsy, so they replaced a small part of her brain with a hundred tiny brain bits. It took care of the problem, and she didn’t seem any worse for it. It had never occurred to Lev where those tiny pieces of brain tissue might have come from. 

(A) I am pretty sure that's not a viable therapy, anymore than getting someone's temporal lobe transplanted in would be a viable therapy for a traumatic brain injury; and

(2) Schusterman knows no more about how brains work than he does about linguistics or how to evaluate sources. In this section, he also makes it clear that schools do "brain scans" to determine what a person's IQ is, which, yeah, no. That's just goofy.

And speaking of goofy! Marriage Equality also doesn't exist in Schusterman's world, so while CyFi has two dads, they aren't married. But after CyFi was storked on their doorstep, they got "mmarried."

What's "mmarried"?

Apparently it's when two gay people marry. The extra M stands for Men, see, because Lesbians and bisexuals and transpeople don't exist in this world either.

Schusterman is careful to let us know, however, that both CyFi and Lev are one hundred percent heterosexual males. No icky gay people in this book.

CyFi has an episode, and self-harms, and Lev promises to take care of him. Isn't that sweet, the white kid won't let anything happen to his Magical Negro sidekick.

Sweet Jesus.


D Shannon said...

How did this book manage to win awards?

delagar said...

It's oddly readable, unlike Glenn Beck massive brain-numbing slog.

And Library Journal gave it a starred review, calling it "thoughtful" and claiming it's "evenhanded, thoughtful treatment of many issues, including when life starts and stops"

I'm not finding it either thoughtful or even-handed, frankly.

Anonymous said...

Holy Scott!!! At this point I was desperately hoping this was all faked and such a book was NOT part of any high school curriculum. But I fear it is. And I think you work for a university so this is not a high school in a deep dark rural area of a 3rd world nation. Possibly your community even has high school aged children of other than Northern European ancestry........ and this was still required reading!!!!!!!! WHY??????
Could you possibly post the list of other books they used in the classroom ... or would that cause massive heart failure for your readers.
Please do continue to summarize this appalling story for the pure horror value and bigotry factor.

delagar said...

I do live at the very edge of Northwest Arkansas, though. So kind of dark.

(NW Arkansas is the enlightened part of Arkansas. It's got Fayetteville, where all the LGBT people in Arkansas end up, if they can't escape Arkansas altogether. The rest of Arkansas, the Delta and SW Arkansas, and the upper NE part, is all pretty grim. Google Harrison, AR for more.)

Mostly I was happy with the curriculum of our local high school, which is not a surprise, as we at the university train most of the English teachers in the area.

But yeah, there were a few books that made me say WTF. The Kid had to read Ayn Rand in 10th grade, for instance.

And we had a local scandal when the AP English professor (who I knew well, and who had taken many of my classes) assigned John Green's Looking For Alaska and ONE single parent took umbrage at how "filthy" the book was.

This is hilarious if you've read the book, but of course neither the parent nor the principal had. And the principal insisted that every copy of the John Green book be destroyed.

Not just pulled from use. LITERALLY destroyed.

delagar said...

Sorry, AP English *teacher*.