UnBound - Neal Shusterman


There are so many people to thank for the creation of UnBound, it’s hard to know where to begin! Actually that’s not true, because it all begins with my editor, David Gale, and assistant editor, Liz Kossnar. As always, their guidance through the writing and rewriting process is invaluable. Everyone at Simon & Schuster has been, and continues to be amazingly supportive: Justin Chanda, Jon Anderson, Anne Zafian, Katy Hershberger, Michelle Leo, Candace Greene, Chrissy Noh, Krista Vossen, and Katrina Groover, to name just a few.

A heartfelt thanks to my collaborators—about half the stories in UnBound were collaborations, and it has been a joy working with all you! Michelle Knowlden, who co-wrote UnStrung, Unfinished Symphony, and UnTithed; Terry Black, who conceived of, and co-wrote UnClean. My son Brendan Shusterman, who conceived of, and co-wrote Unnatural Selection with me; and my son Jarrod Shusterman, who basically did all the heavy-lifting in UnDevoured.

Thanks to Barb Sobel and Jennifer Widmer, my assistants, who keep life flowing around me rather than drowning me when I need time to write (which is always!) And Matt Lurie, who has been tireless in updating my website, putting together my newsletter, and keeping my social media presence alive.

Thanks to my book agent, Andrea Brown; my foreign rights agent, Taryn Fagerness, my entertainment industry agents, Steve Fisher and Debbie Deuble-Hill at APA; my manager, Trevor Engelson; and my contract attorneys, Shep Rosenman, Lee Rosenbaum, and Gia Paladino.

At the writing of this, Unwind is moving toward being made as a feature film, and I’d like to thank everyone involved, including Roger and Gala Avary, Julian Stone, Catherine Kimmel, Charlotte Stout, Marc Benardout, and Faber Dewar, as well as Robert Kulzer, Martin Moszkowicz, and everyone at Constantin Films.

And of course this ten-year journey through the Unwind world never would have happened had it not been for the passion and support of the fans! This book is my gift to all of you!


The schoolboy bursts through the door, the first one out of the building when the bell rings. He is expected to be at home fifteen minutes after school lets out. He’s not going home.

As he races through the streets, signs of the Heartland War are all around him. Burned-out cars. Rubble from blasted clinics. Crosses in the ground marking spots where soldiers and civilians on either side died fighting for their cause. This is nothing new. It’s the world he knows, the world in which he grew up. He and his friends played in the burned-out cars when they were little. They played Lifers and Choicers with plastic guns and toy grenades, never caring which side of the game they were on, as long as they were on the same side as their best friends.

But those childhood days are gone. Things are much more serious for him now.

He turns down a side street that’s infested with pigeons by day and rats by night, crossing an invisible line that everyone knows even without being able to see it. It’s the line that marks the border beyond which law and reason cease to exist. It’s called the wild zone, and every city and town has one. No one who values their property or their lives will venture there. Police have more important things to deal with, and not even the warring militias will go there anymore. The Choice Army blames all the wild zones on the Life Brigade, and vice versa. Easier to point fingers than actually do something about them.

But for the schoolboy this place and the people holed up there have a certain allure that he cannot explain. Certainly not to his parents. Whenever he’s late from school, he always has an excuse they’ll believe. If they knew where he really goes on those days, he can’t even imagine what they’d do to him.

The buildings around him are mostly condemned. Angry spray-painted politics shout out from the bullet-marred bricks, and the windows are boarded over or just left broken.

In a narrow alley he pushes open a side door that has only one hinge to keep it upright and steps inside. Immediately he’s grabbed by two teens waiting there. They push him hard against the wall—hard enough to bruise, but that’s okay. He knows the drill. He knows why they have to do this. They can’t be seen as weak. Even by him. Because there are other feral gangs that would use that weakness against them.

“Why you always comin’ here, Schoolie?” one of his assailants asks. “Don’t you got better things to