Neal Shusterman has released another fantastic novel over the holiday weekend (which I immediately purchased on Black Friday.) This time, instead of a dystopian world where abortion is illegal and kids between 12 and 17 can be “unwound,” Scythe takes place in a utopian world where all knowledge has been been achieved and death has been conquered. However, in a world where overpopulation is quickly increasing due to the lack of, well, people dying, an organization of sanctioned killers must take it upon themselves to glean those humans. Those who must take on this task are called Scythes.
The story follows Citra and Rowan, two seventeen year old kids who are chosen by Honorable Scythe Faraday to learn the ways of scythdom and to become the next Scythes. However, only one of them can become a Scythe – and eventually, a new rule is declared where the winner must glean the loser.
I was immediately intrigued by this story, and Shusterman does a great job of throwing us into this world. The first chapter follows Citra’s first encounter with Scythe Faraday, who comes to her home for a meal and then visits their neighbor to glean her. The second chapter follows Rowan, where he is at school when Scythe Faraday arrives to glean the star football player.
Both of these chapters were powerful scenes that established what this utopia was like, thrust the plot forward, and made me connect with the main characters.
Throughout the book, I flipped on who I would want to win this battle between apprentices: Citra, who has strong morals and is quick on her feet, or Rowan, who has the strength and skill to be a good Scythe. I won’t spoil much, but the ending was very satisfying regarding who you end up rooting for. Shusterman does a great job at making it an even race and showing the growth between these two young adults as they’re forced into a world they would much rather ignore.
The writing style was impeccable (though I did catch two misplaced quotation marks.) He does a great job of bouncing between Rowan and Citra’s perspective, especially when they’re in the same scene working together. He also prefaces every chapter with a journal entry written by three of the main Honorable Scythe’s: Faraday, Curie, and Goddard. Even Citra and Rowan have their own occasional journal entries provided. These entries frame each chapter and guide the story along flawlessly.
Something else that I greatly admire in this novel is the lack of description in characters. The descriptions are sparse: Rowan has “dark hair and light freckled skin” and Citra isn’t described physically (at least from what I remember.) Those descriptions didn’t matter as much as the robes that the Scythe’s wore.
Robe colors are unique to every Scythe, and speak volumes about the personality of the Scythe. Faraday wears ivory, Curie wears lavender, and Goddard wears dark blue studded with diamonds. Other Scythe’s are described by their robes more than their appearance.
And as I write this, I realize that the lack of description in appearance most likely reflects the unimportance of beauty in this utopia. With death conquered, humans can reset their lives to any point after 21 once they feel they are growing too old. This allows those who are several hundreds of years old to look young once more. To spend time describing appearance is a waste of time. However, for Scythes, the robes are a constant. That’s the most important aspect to their being.
Of course, the characterization and world building only add to the overall story that Shusterman weaves. The life of Citra and Rowan grow more complicated as a events unfold and throw them against each other. The plot has many twists and turns that kept me eagerly reading, and the book wrapped up nicely while still leaving it open for the rest of the series.
I’m excited to read the next installment in this series. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a completely unique and fresh YA novel.