Thursday, January 12, 2017

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Kicking off the new year with a dystopian teen novel about a future America where there is no disease, everyone has everything they need, and no one goes hungry.  Sounds great, right?

Well, everything has a price.  With medical advances and a system that has people who have accidents going to revival centers coming out good as new a few days later...it creates a whole lot of people living, and not so many dying.  So the world came up with scythes.  These are special people who are trained, and become for life, someone who goes out and "gleans" people.  Gleaning is another word for killing, murdering, finishing someone off.  When a scythe shows up at your door, your life is over.  Some scythes use statistics to decide who will die, others take a random approach.  Each scythe must glean approximately 250 people a year, which equals about 5 million people world wide.  Not nearly enough people as those who died from disease, accidents, and old age back in the day.  Scythes are respected and feared, and the rules the surround the world of the scythes are unbreakable.

Enter Citra and Rowan, two sixteen year olds who find themselves asked to become apprentices to Scythe Faraday.  Reluctant, both decide the immunity from gleaning granted to their families is worth the terrifying prospect of becoming a scythe.  Both Citra and Rowan are smart, capable teens who each have their own reasons for accepting Scythe Faraday's apprenticeship.  

But, there are dark forces within the scythe community, and they believe they should be able not only enjoy the gleanings they do, but have the limits imposed on all scythes lifted, so that they may glean however many people they wish, however they want.  Those forces won't stop at the underhanded ways they take to ensure the old guard disappears, and the new order of scythes take over.  Citra and Rowan stand in their way.  

I liked this novel.  It took me a bit to figure out what exactly the world was like for Citra and Rowan.  It's a world that we all think we want, but once we have it, probably won't like it.  With the threat of death pretty minimal, plenty of food, and no worries about growing old (people can reset themselves to a younger age--and even have more kids!) or not having enough money, well...life can get a bit boring, and even pointless.  What is there to strive for?  What is there to propel you forward, to try new things, work hard, or take a chance?  

Big themes are morality, mortality, the meaning of death, and sacrifice.  The Thunderhead, the thing of all knowledge, memory, and control of humanity is a fascinating idea and one that plays a good foil to the world of the Scythes.  When people finally pass on, their memories go directly to the Thunderhead, and are stored there, along with all of the rest of human history.  But where, exactly, do we go when we die?  What about the soul of each of us?  Lots of discussion opportunities here!  And, lucky us, this is the first in a series.  We get to find out what happens to Citra and Rowan and see if the scythe world and the Thunderhead remain separate or clash.  My interest is peaked enough that I will certainly want to read the next book in this series.  

Rating:  7/10 for a different dystopian teen novel, with big themes on quality of life, making the right choices, and what life means when the threat of harm is eliminated.  Citra and Rowan are solid characters and I look forward to seeing their adventures continue. Scythes do go about the business of gleaning, so there is a lot of death in this novel.  If you're super sensitive to that, you may not like it.  It's doesn't get overly descriptive, but people are gleaned via poison, knife, gunshot, and flamethrower.  You've been warned. 

Available in hardcover e-book, and audio. 

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