Something I didn't mention in reviewing the last few chapters -- when Lev pulled the fire alarm, everyone thought it was a bomb scare. Apparently, in this world without contraception or birth control, people called "clappers" blow up schools for fun. (They do this by making their blood explosive, so that when they clap, they become tiny nuclear weapons, I guess. How do you make blood explosive? What an excellent question.)
I assume this impulse to blow up schools full of kids is because Unwinding is supposed to cause people to devalue life. That's a claim that's often made about contraception and birth control -- I've heard Evangelicals claim, for instance, that abortion leads to school shootings, because hey, if it's okay to kill a zygote, why isn't it okay to kill a 14 year old?
What really devalued life was women not being able to control their fertility. That's when we had slavery. That's when we had baby farms. That's when we had people leaving their excess children to die in jars, or dumping them en mass at foundling homes (where 90% of them died). That's when we had capital punishment for crimes as minor as theft or loitering.
I guess we could read Schusterman's book as saying that -- women unable to control their fertility leads to too many babies leads to contempt for all life.
I'm dubious, though.
We're back in Risa point of view. The teacher is still helping them escape the school. She takes the baby, because obviously the police are looking for two kids with a baby. (What? Since when? Oh, since Lev betrayed them -- but how the fuck does the teacher know this? She doesn't even KNOW about Lev.)
Then Risa and Connor almost escape the two police officers who are scanning the crowd, looking for two kids with a baby -- since now Hannah has the baby (all of a sudden the teacher has a name, and it's Hannah, which we never actually learned, but okay).
They almost get away, but then Lev yells their names. In front of the police. Because he wants them to wait for him.
(1) Apparently Lev is an idiot, which I guess we knew, since he believed the whole it's-holy-to-be-tithed thing
(2) I thought the police didn't know Connor and Risa had run away? Wasn't that the whole point of the previous several chapters? Can we get a ruling on this plot point please?
Anyway, the police zero in on Risa and Connor, but not to worry, the jig is not up. Risa and Connor begin clapping wildly, because apparently that's what people who are blowing up schools full of children do, and everyone begins to run in circles, screaming and waving their arms.
Hannah catches up with them, dumps the baby on Risa again, and sends them to this antique shop, apparently a stop on the Unwind Underground Railroad.
Lev's point of view. He's sad because Risa and Connor don't like him. Also, if he's not a Holy Tithe to God, then who is he?
Poor Lev is having an existential crisis. But he doesn't recognize that. He should have read fewer bible verses and more actual books.
This is a long chapter. Brace yourselves.
Risa and Connor find the antique shop, but not before Connor gets annoyed at the constant crying of the baby. We get this charming sentence:
The baby is inconsolable, and Connor wants to complain to Risa about it, but knows that he can’t.
And that's how it will be from this point on, by the way. The baby is Risa's responsibility. She has to feed it and take care of it and it's her fault when it cries. I mean, we can't expect Connor to do anything to take care of a baby.
The antique shop / Underground Railroad is run by a grumpy old woman named Sonia who are first pretends not to know why Connor and Risa are there, though later she admits that Hannah called to say they were coming.
Why would Sonia do this? I think Shusterman is trying to create tension, at the expense of credibility.
Sonia advises Risa to let Connor get her pregnant "again." Apparently pregnant children aren't Unwound, so that would buy her 9 months. But apparently children can be Unwound once they give birth. Which makes very little sense. What happens to their children? State Homes? What?
Anyway, Sonia sends them to the room she lives in, behind the store, where Risa feeds the baby cow's milk straight from the fridge with a spoon.
This tells you how much time Schusterman has spent with day-old infants.
Then Sonia stows Risa and Connor and the baby down in the cellar with three other Unwind AWOLS. One is a juvenile offender, one is a rich boy with braces on his teeth, and one is an Asian girl.
We hear all their stories.
Hayden, the rich kid, has parents who are going through a messy divorce. Neither will surrender custody of him. Both agree to have him Unwound instead.
I don't need to say that makes no sense at all, right? As much sense as paying for braces for a kid you're planning to Unwind.
The juvenile offender, Roland, beat up his stepfather for hitting his mom. Mom sided with the stepfather, so Roland was sentenced to be Unwound. Apparently Unwinding is also a judicial punishment. But why only use it for 13-18 year olds? If you're going to harvest criminals for their organs, what sense does it make to stop when they turn 18?
The Asian girl, Mai, is a racist cliche. Her parents wanted a son, and kept having babies -- and unwinding the girls -- until they got one. Mai says this is "normal," and that in China "back in the day" girl babies were killed right and left.
Two chapters ago we were told Unwinding was different from killing. But now it's not again. Which is it, Schusterman?
Anyway, they squabble like adolescents down in this cellar. Risa takes care of the baby, who somehow acquired the name Didi. Connor and Hayden bond. Hayden tells us the story of Humphrey Dunfree, who were heard about some chapters back.
See, Humphrey's parents sent him to be Unwound. But later they were sorry. So his dad hacked into the Unwind Database and found out who had gotten all of Humphrey's organs and skin and all his bits. Then the parents murdered all those kids and stitched Humphrey back together again.
I'll give it to Schusterman, this is a pretty good urban legend. It fits the worldbuilding he'd done pretty well.
Sonia takes everyone upstairs one at a time and has them write a letter to whoever they loved most in the world. (This is Connor's parents, which is a little surprising.) She says if they survive to 18, they should come back for the letter. If not, she'll mail it to their loved ones.
Again, nice touch.
The chapter ends with Connor holding the baby -- the one he's left Risa to care for non-stop since they acquired the kid -- so that Schusterman can give us a touching paragraph:
It’s asleep, and right now, in this place and at this moment, there’s something so comforting about holding it in his arms, he’s thankful he saved it. And he thinks that if his soul had a form, this is what it would be. A baby sleeping in his arms.
Connor 'saved' it. But caring for it 24/7 is Risa's job. I don't know if Schusterman thinks this makes sense, or if we're supposed to see Connor as kind of a dick.
According to my Kindle, we're only 30% through the book. I hope something interesting happens soon.