Friday, March 9, 2018

Book Review: "Scythe" by Neal Shusterman

Wow. Mind totally blown by this one.

In a future world, mortality, war, illness, hunger have all been eradicated. Injuries are quickly healed by the body's own (amped-up) healing properties. Even aging is something you can counter—when you're tired of being your age, you can "turn" yourself into someone younger—over and over and over again.

The only way to control the population is through gleaning—killings of seemingly random people—and they are carried out by scythes, individuals commanded to commit these gleanings. Scythes are revered and feared within society, and while each scythe has their own methods of choosing whom to glean and how, they follow a strict code of behavior and have specific quotas as to the number of people they are to glean each year. It is a necessary evil, and death is no longer feared or worried about.

"The ending of human life used to be in the hands of nature. But we stole it. Now we have a monopoly on death. We are its sole distributor."

After each has an encounter with a scythe, teenagers Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to one of the area's most respected scythes, Honorable Scythe Faraday. This is a role neither wants, for although their families will get immunity from gleaning for as long as they live if they are chosen to become scythes, their lives will be relatively solitary and austere, for they must spend most of their days gleaning or preparing to glean. Who would seek out such a life?

As Citra and Rowan learn from Scythe Faraday, they realize the nobility of the role, the conflicted emotions with which many scythes approach their responsibilities, and the physical, mental, and intellectual skills needed to become a good scythe. While the two are drawn to each other, they know that only one of them will become a scythe at the end of the year, and that competition confuses and motivates them. At the same time, they are forbidden from romantic entanglements with each other, so they channel their feelings into their preparation.

But the world of scythedom is in the midst of its own upheaval, and suddenly Rowan and Citra are pitted against each other, being trained by different scythes. Citra becomes apprentice to Scythe Curie, one of the most famous of the early scythes, while Rowan is an apprentice to Scythe Goddard, one of the bold new scythes, who believes more in his celebrity and presence, and challenges the customs of the traditional scythes. It is Goddard who sets a challenge in motion: whichever apprentice is chosen to become a full-fledged scythe will automatically be expected to glean the other.

This is an utterly fascinating, thought-provoking, exceptionally written book that I could not get enough of. Scythe is a compelling meditation on a world without mortality, and how those tasked with culling the population live their lives and approach those they choose to glean. It's a study in conscience, in guilt, in friendship, and in finding nobility in such a disturbing task.

I have never read any of Neal Shusterman's books, but I'll definitely be reading the second book in this series soon (I'm trying to be patient and not devour it immediately) as well as more of his work. He created such a fascinating world I wanted to know more about (I've not made any mention of the Thunderhead, which is the benevolent ruling entity in the world, and that's intriguing in and of itself), not to mention tremendously complex and distinct characters I couldn't get enough of.

I know that YA isn't a genre for everyone, and this book might sound a little out there for some, but this is really a fantastic book. It's better written than many YA books, and it actually makes you think, and invests you in the plot. Give this one a shot.

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