Book Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman


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.

What a fascinating story! I hadn’t heard of Scythe until my son’s high school picked it for their school-wide summer reading book. Once I picked up a copy (ostensibly for my son), I just had to read it. Utterly compelling and impossible to put down.

In the world of Scythe, modern history dates back to the year 2042:

It’s a year that every schoolchild knows. It was the year when computational power became infinite — or so close to infinite that is could no longer be measured. It was the year we knew… everything. “The cloud” evolved into “the Thunderhead,” and now all there is to know about everything resides in the near-infinite memory of the Thunderhead for anyone who wants to access it.

With the coming of the Thunderhead and infinite knowledge, humankind had the answers to everything — disease, hunger, death. People became immortal, and thus, the need for scythes emerged. Generations later, scythes have rockstar status (there are even trading cards), but are also feared and treated as outside normal society. Scythes bring death as they “glean” people, some with thoughtful process and compassion, others with showy spectacle. Yes, people still have accidents and can be “deadish”, but everyone who dies in any manner can be revived, apart from those who have been gleaned. Gleanings are final, and irrevocable.

As Citra and Rowan have their lives transformed, from humdrum teen life to the world of apprenticeship, they’re thrust into a secret society of laws and infighting and a morality all its own. And as the year of apprentice progresses, they learn that some scythes have embraced a more corrupt, corrosive form of scythedom, and that these scythes seem poised to take over completely.

I was utterly absorbed while reading this book. There are some truly deep notions that I can only imagine would make for fabulous discussions. In Scythe, we learn that with infinite knowledge comes a lack of true meaning. Everything that can be known is already known. All accomplishments have been accomplished. Life stretches on forever, and when a person’s body reaches a more advanced age than desired, he or she can simply “turn a corner” and reset back to an earlier age. Without the fear of death or the sense of a limited time to make one’s mark, life is persistent and pleasant, but there’s no sense of urgency. Art suffers — there are no heights of passion or suffering to scale. Everything is nice… but it kind of sounds like a pretty boring way to live forever.

The power plays of the scythes is scary and upsetting to read about. Scythes are untouchable and answer only to their own governing body — so when corrupt scythes who tow the line of the letter of the law while committing horrific acts start climbing to dominance, there’s no balancing force to keep scythedom pure.

I really just can’t say enough good things about this book! I was completely hooked, and can’t wait to start the sequel, Thunderhead.


The details:

Title: Scythe
Author: Neal Shusterman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: November 22, 2016
Length: 435 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Purchased








12 thoughts on “Book Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

  1. I read this when it came out last year – random grab off the new YA release shelf and just finished up thunderhead a couple weeks ago – now I have to wait for the next book to come out

  2. I’m so glad you loved this one! Thunderhead is quite possibly even better. The wait for book 3 has been hard. 😉

    • I was kind of bummed to hear that there’s going to be a 3rd –when I picked up Scythe, I thought it was a two-book-and-done situation. Not that I mind having more of the story, I just hate waiting for sequels.

  3. I adored this story and, after devouring “Thunderhead,” actually forced my reader friends and husband to read them, too. You’ll love “Thunderhead.” Can’t wait for your review.

    • I’m so excited to continue the story! I originally picked this up for my son, who has yet to read it… but I’m working on convincing him. 🙂

  4. I had not heard of this book either, but I just checked our high school’s Reading Olympics book list and it’s on there! Sounds like an intense story. I wonder if I can get my son to read it? Great review!

    • My son is such a reluctant reader. He’ll only read what’s absolutely required and nothing more… and even though this is a book for school, his English teacher for next year has already said she won’t be covering it in class so he thinks he can skip it. Sigh. Even when I rave about how good it is, he’s not impressed.

      • Well, I know how you feel. Since I work in a library, and sometimes in the children’s section, it seems as if every parent who comes in has a child who is a voracious reader. I don’t have any of those in my family. The only thing I can say is that I was not a big reader as a kid, but grew into reading and eventually became an English major. So as adults, our kids can pick up the hobby – it’s such a great one to have!

        • It’s so hard to predict. My daughter is as crazy about reading as I am, and my son won’t touch it. Then again, my stepson wouldn’t read growing up, and now that he’s an adult, he’s really gotten into it, so there’s always hope.

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