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Teen/YA Review: Scythe

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My husband, son, and I are big fans of Neal Schusterman, author of dozens of outstanding middle-grade and YA novels. Two of our favorites are the middle-grade Skinjacker trilogy (starting with Everlost), an imaginative look at the afterlife, and the YA dystopian series that starts with Unwind, which is still a family favorite, many years later. Schusterman doesn’t just write fantasy and science fiction, either. Bruiser is a mostly realistic YA novel about abuse, with a bit of a supernatural twist, and Challenger Deep is a creative, powerful YA novel about mental illness, based on the author’s own son’s experiences with schizophrenia. So, I wanted to read Scythe even before I heard all the rave reviews. I don’t know why it took me so long! It was just as good as I expected.

Scythe takes place in a far-off future, where technology has evolved to the point where there is no more suffering. The Thunderhead (which began with the present-day “cloud”) has evolved into intelligent AI that oversees every aspect of life, so there is no more need for government or politics. Disease has been eradicated, and nanites in each person’s bloodstream automatically heal injuries, treat pain, and even control mood to prevent anger or despair. Even middle seats on airplanes have been abolished! Sounds like a pretty great way to live, right? The only problem is that with no natural death and humans now essentially immortal, the world needed a way to control population so it wouldn’t outstrip the world’s resources (which are carefully apportioned by the Thunderhead so everyone gets what they need). The answer to that problem was to designate certain humans as Scythes who are tasked with gleaning (i.e. killing) a certain number of people each year to keep the world in perfect balance. Ideally, these Scythes operate under a strict moral code and are revered for their role in society, but as is always the case where humans are involved, not all Scythes follow the rules and aspire to ethical behavior.

In this world, two ordinary teens, Citra and Rowan, have recently been selected by Scythe Faraday (each Scythe chooses a historic name) to train as Scythes. Neither of them wants to dedicate their life to gleaning, but that–along with evidence of honesty and compassion–is precisely why Scythe Faraday chose them to be his apprentices. He’s one of the good guys and begins to train Citra and Rowan rigorously in killing techniques, as well as old world history and philosophy and the moral code of the Scythes. Their training is interrupted, though, as some of the Scythes with more selfish motives intervene.

As in all of Schusterman’s dystopian novels, he has created a thoroughly unique and fascinating future world, where you can easily see the chilling links back to our own world. His novels are always gripping and suspenseful, yet thought-provoking, and Scythe is no exception. The reader quickly comes to like Citra and Rowan–and Scythe Faraday, too–and all of the characters are interesting and three-dimensional. It’s an action-packed story, full of surprising twists, that kept me turning the pages. Schusterman has done it again, with another thoughtful, high-stakes dystopian thriller. I can’t wait to read book two, and I’ve already moved Scythe onto my husband’s to-be-read pile, because I know he’ll love it, too.

435 pages, Simon & Schuster

Audible Studios

This book fits in the following 2023 Reading Challenges:

Mount TBR Challenge

Big Book Summer Challenge


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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible.


    (as an Audible production, it seems the audio is only available through Audible)


You can buy the book through, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)–the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!


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