- My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
- Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
- Hardcover 435
- most YA dystopia sucks, this one doesn’t
Thou shalt kill.
A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.
Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.
I had fairly high expectations going into Scythe, although the only other Shusterman book that I have attempted to read was a total disappointment. Fortunately, this book lived up to its positive reviews and its Printz Honors.
I think the description for this book, while intriguing, is a bit misleading as to its actual content. Scythe is set in a post-mortal (humanity has conquered death) utopian society where the only way a life can end is if a Scythe chooses to “glean” it. For the most part, these Scythes are on an honor system. This works well for a while, but not everyone’s morals or interpretations of the law align. The direction that Shusterman took with the novel left me on my toes–it was totally eerie and unpredictable. The novel was driven by the characters and their thoughts and morality, not by an unseen “deus” found in most YA today. (Also, I did not see the ending coming at all! I think it was satisfactory enough for Scythe to be a standalone, but I do think the sequel will be fun to read).
Still, to me, the plot of the story is secondary to the philosophical overtones presented throughout the book. In a world without death, what is the purpose of life? Are values from the so-called “age of mortality” a necessary component of humanity? What is the value of a single life when everyone else lives forever? Should the dead still be mourned? Is it better to have limited time with clear goals or eternity with no meaning? The two characters face morally difficult and taxing situations that brought these questions to mind, and I am still thinking about them now; what I’ve found is that there are multiple compelling answers, and none of them are completely correct. The themes of Scythe go beyond typical petty YA problems about boys and school, and hit a little closer to home: a great novel makes you ponder your thoughts and question your beliefs, it stays with you long after you’ve put it down. This is definitely a great novel.