By Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster; New York, NY; 2016
Ages 13 and older
Imagine a future where the government is obsolete; death and disease have been conquered; basic needs are all provided for; and people can reset their youth and live forever. The Cloud has developed and matured into the Thunderhead, a sentient artificial intelligence “with a purer soul than that of any human,” that insures human safety better than we could ourselves, and for the most part humanity has “laid its various gods to rest” along with the crimes of old. But of course there is one drawback. To solve the problem of overpopulation in this post-mortal world, the best of humanity are chosen to serve as scythes—people who kill, or rather “glean,” a certain quota of others in order to maintain a necessary balance. This is the setting for award-winning author Neal Shusterman’s fantastic latest series debut, Scythe.
In this world, two teens, Citra and Rowan, have been chosen as competing apprentices to the Honorable Scythe Faraday, and this is the intriguing and action-packed story of how they navigate that unwelcome, potentially soul-sacrificing, yet strangely enticing challenge. Sorting out their relationship to each other and to their mentor is one thing, maintaining their own conception of morality whilst studying killcraft and training physically in the deadly arts is another. And as if those daunting tasks weren’t enough, additionally they must maneuver through the political machinations of the Scythedom. As with any group, where there is power there is usually corruption, and the Scythedom is not immune. For Citra and Rowan, conquering that evil becomes their driving force.
Irony abounds in this world—where those who kill are now above the law; where what used to be the greatest crime has become the “highest calling,” and yet those who would enjoy the job are the least well-suited for it. While Citra and Rowan strive to become efficient killers, their mentor imparts that his greatest wish is “that we all still die a little inside when we witness the death of another. For only the pain of empathy will keep us human. There’s no version of God that can help us if we ever lose that.”
For a seeming utopia, this future is fascinating and fraught! Scythe won the 2017 Printz Honor Award and is on next year’s Oregon Battle of the Books reading list. Check it out!