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The Book Look: Scythe’s perfect world has a fatal flaw

Scythe was written by Neil Schusterman.

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Scythe was written by Neil Schusterman.


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This is senior Lauren Melendez’s final The Book Look column.

Imagine a world in which there is no disease. No hunger. No war. No misery. No death.

It seems impossible — and yet, in Scythe, a newly popular young adult novel by Neal Shusterman — the stuff of fiction is made fathomable.

The only problem in this seemingly perfect, utopian society is that of population control. Having eradicated all things harmful, the citizens of this society are virtually immortal. As such, the “solution” conjured up was to ordain carefully-selected members of society as “scythes,” esteemed members of the community hired to kill others at random.

When teens Citra and Rowan cross paths with the compassionate and perspicacious Scythe Faraday, they are forced to master the art of killing — more commonly referred to as “gleaning.” Scythe Faraday takes them on as apprentices, and dutifully teaches them the myriad of ways to kill with efficiency and precision, as well as how to select their victims. Though it is quite common for scythes to train apprentices, Scythe Faraday’s decision to take on two was unprecedented and resulted in both scandal and turmoil.

At the Scythe Conclave, a panel at which scythes convene to discuss the ideologies of the Scythedom and the political division that plagues it, many disturbing conflicts are revealed. Some, like Scythe Faraday, glean with compassion and the proper solemnity that should be associated with the loss of a life. Others, such as the contemptible Scythe Goddard, glean for sport because they enjoy taking lives. Those that affiliate with the latter view the killing quota with disdain, and are of the belief that to limit the number of deaths they can execute is an injustice and an obstruction of their liberties.

The story grows exponentially in excitement and continuously enthralls the reader the more they read. The plot thickens when at the conclave the scythes come to a conclusion about Scythe Faraday’s audacious decision: only one apprentice shall live. After a year of arduous training, they were to pick one of the two apprentices to become a true scythe, and the winner must, in turn, kill the other. However, after months spent together, training side by side and forging a friendship, this begs the question: will Citra and Rowan be able to steel themselves enough to kill the other?

This is a topic that could have easily become a cliche story — something typical of young adult fiction, in which dystopia and utopia have become a trope of the genre. However, in the hands of Neal Shusterman, this story became an artful, poignant piece that resonates in the minds of readers long after it is read. In a world where technology has consumed our lives, this imaginative, fictional story suddenly feels prophetic. It forces readers to look inward and ask themselves important questions surrounding both mortality and morality.

One of the factors that made this novel feel so real was the extensive world-building Shusterman employed. Perhaps the most beguiling aspect of the society he crafted was “The Thunderhead.” Essentially, it is much like “the cloud” we know today, but it possesses artificial intelligence and encompasses the entirety of humanity’s knowledge. It is a benevolent, omnipotent being that governs society and eliminates the biases and prejudices associated with a government lead by people. One of the more keen, percipient lines of the novel is the following:

In a world where technology has consumed our lives, this imaginative, fictional story suddenly feels prophetic. ”

— Lauren Melendez

“Human nature is both predictable and mysterious; prone to great and sudden advances, yet still mired in despicable self-interest.”

These words serve to capture the deficits of human existence, and the problems associated both with the world we know today and the daunting, perhaps vatic world depicted in Scythe.

Scythe will force you to look at the world in a different way, regarding the nuances of humanity as well as what exactly it means to be human. In a world where all that makes us human has been eliminated, what will we become? If you are looking to read a novel that stands alone among its counterparts in inventiveness as well as profundity, look no further.

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The Book Look: Scythe’s perfect world has a fatal flaw