Scythe (Book Review)

Written by Michelle Watson

April 23, 2024

You’ll love it if
you’re a sucker for dystopias that plumb the deep questions of life

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Scythe

By Neal Shusterman

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

What does it mean to die?

Some of the best YA fiction deals with this question. Here, Shusterman asks his teen readers to grapple with death in a dystopia where almost nobody dies—unless they’re among the minute percentage of Earthlings who must be “gleaned” in order to keep the global population under control.

Who does this gleaning? Scythes. They are the only human-led organization left on the planet. (A mega-technology called the Thunderhead governs the world.)

Scythes must glean a certain number of people per year, and they must do it without malice or bias. But what if they did it with…enjoyment? There’s no law against it. What if Scythes became the celeb rock stars of the world? What if, instead of being feared, they were worshipped?

Shusterman’s dystopia asks big questions about power and mortality/immortality. There is some fantastic potential for discussion here, but many teen readers will need guidance.

The concept of immortality (or, at the very least, a life that could last a thousand-plus years) is what kept jolting me out of the story. How can we even begin to comprehend a life without an imminent end? We value life because it’s fragile and over too soon. But what if we didn’t value life that way? This part of the story was hard for me to grasp and made it feel a tad distanced.

This book does everything so well, though. The writing stands head and shoulders above. Strong, complex characters. A couple of very spicy villains. The plot is perfectly paced, and the ending is a total knockout.

I can’t say that I love this book, but the execution is flawless.

4.4

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