Monday, July 23, 2018


Scythe, Neal Shusterman

This futuristic young adult thriller portrays a world where technological advances are so great that humanity is immortal, all injuries are healed by healing centre or by the body itself, and people can even choose to ‘turn the corner’, reverting to a younger version of themselves, able to have more children and loved ones.  The cloud, now containing the total input of all people’s information and memories has evolved to become the Thunderhead, which benignly and expertly solves all the world’s problems: famines, natural disasters, and crimes, and requires no government to make it happen. In essence, the world is now perfect.

But what happens when no one dies, everyone lives forever and missions to populate space have failed?  No matter how well managed the world is, overpopulation will eventually occur. Enter the Scythes, an elite worldwide unit of professional gleaners, who are are tasked with choosing who will permanently die. They are ruled by 10 commandments designed to keep them working with honour and discretion.

But (and no surprise here to those of us who believe in the sinfulness of humanity), the rot has set in and while many scythes do operate according to their original codes and beliefs, the new order is on the rise, and some of them just love killing, doing so with no compassion, care or thought.

Into this world two apprentices are taken on by the Honourable Scythe Faraday: Citra and Rowan. What starts as a friendly camaraderie as they train together takes a nasty turn as a scythe counsel declares that only one will be made a true Scythe and their first act will be to glean the other.

As the book unfolds the depth to which Shusterman has created this world becomes apparent. There is much to ponder, including:

  • What would happen if technology did overtake the world, but do it perfectly?
  • Where would people find purpose if they lived forever?
  • If the growth of civilisation is complete, what is the point of planning either for the future or learning about the past?
  • How could population control be managed in an immortal world?
  • In a world of no pain, no suffering and no death, yet also having no purpose for living, would anything cause real emotion or response anymore?
  • What does thrill seeking and adventure look like in a world where you can’t die? Here one of the past times of thrillseekers is ‘splatting’, jumping off high things to become deadish, where they are restored to health in a few days in a revival centre.

As I have reflected on it more, the heavenly hope of eternal life only has value because of the Lord God who controls and sustains it. Joy is found in him, not ourselves. We will be made complete in Him, in order to rejoice and glorify him, not just so that we can live forever.

Obviously considering the subject matter, there is a lot of killing. Some of it is compassionate and thoughtful, and some is a massacre. There are details of methods of gleaning and how each scythe goes about it. So, while there is no swearing, and just a hint of romantic interest, there is a lot of violence. It’s a book for young adults and Mr 15 really enjoyed it, but I would hesitate to recommend it to teens much younger than 14. And I think this is definitely one of those books a parent should read too, so you can talk about it together.

It almost seems strange to say considering the subject matter, but it’s an enjoyable book to read.  As I said, it’s though provoking, but it’s also very well written. It got me straight in with the opening sentence:
“The scythe arrived late on a cold November afternoon. Citra was at the dining room table, slaving over a particularly difficult algebra problem, shuffling variables, unable to solve for X or Y, when this new and far more pernicious variable entered her life’s equation.”
We moved quickly on to the sequel Thunderhead, which raises the similar questions and got Mr 15 and I wondering what Shusterman’s belief in God was and what message about deity he was trying to communicate through his writing. At one point I thought he was cleverly and persuasively trying to tear down all ideas of God, at another point I thought he was using clever allegory and illustration to raise questions of religion, worship, mortality, original sin, and codes of ethics. Whatever his own belief system, he has created two great books that ask big philosophical questions in a way that teens can grasp and interact with. I greatly enjoyed both books and how they made me think, and we had some good conversations as we thought about the concepts raised. Both of us eagerly anticipate the third in the series.

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