By Neal Shusterman
Grade Levels: 9+
This is the first in a trilogy of books taking place in a far distant future where medical technology has advanced so well that aging is a preference and anyone can be revived from nearly any accidental death. An all-knowing AI controls all the resources of the world, so there is no hunger, no disease, no inequality. The AI plans out every person’s life to give them the most satisfaction possible. It is an idyllic world where people are only unhappy if they choose to be.
There is only one check on the AI’s control, and that is the Scythes. In a world where there is no natural death, there must still be an unnatural death to maintain balance. The AI has no control over the Scythes, who roam about the world culling people to keep the population from overwhelming the resources of the earth. Each Scythe has a quota they must reach each year. They must be merciless and yet fair in their culling. Everyone must trust that the Scythedom is fair, that the Scythes would never target anyone out of spite or prejudice. A person killed by a Scythe cannot be revived, which is an awful lot of power to put in the hands of anyone.
When teenagers Citra and Rowan both become unwilling apprentices to a Scythe, they come to see that things are much more complicated within the Scythedom than they had ever imagined.
Neal Shusterman’s dystopia was the nominee for Best Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction in 2017. It follows two young teenagers learning both the art and the complexity of taking a life, of what it means to be alive, and how to cope with powers beyond them. Readers confront complicated philosophical questions about what life without consequence means. What does life look like when there’s no chance of death? What do families look like when people can become young again? Would you turn your whole life over to a computer if you knew it would take care of you? Are you allowed to like your job if it deals in death?
Young readers will appreciate the adventure of the story, while older ones will appreciate the complex fabric of decision making everyone must navigate. What would you do if there were no death? What choices would you make?
Crack open Scythe, and find out!