Welcome to the first installment of my monthly book club! This month’s book is Scythe, a young-adult dystopian novel written by Neal Shusterman which won The Michael L. Printz Award for exemplifying literary excellence in young adult literature.
Scythe is set in a futuristic America where death has been cured. To prohibit overpopulation, young people are selected to become scythes who then kill, “glean,” other people. Teenagers Citra and Rowan, the protagonists, are selected by Scythe Faraday to be his apprentices.
What I liked about Scythe:
Even at over 440 pages I found this a quick read. The premise of how to handle overpopulation in an immortal world was fascinating and the characters, particularly Rowan and Scythe Curie who trains Citra, are well-developed.
Additionally, there were some terrific plot twists in Scythe which I appreciated (don’t worry, I won’t spoil them for you). I also found the scythe selection process to be interesting. The book’s pacing accelerated when the two main characters were pitted against each other, though oftentimes conflict was too easily resolved.
Issues I had with Scythe:
I did have some issues with the book. As a writer I tend to have issues with every book. It’s one of the curses of my profession — I can’t turn off the editing/critiquing part of my brain. The main issue I had with Scythe was its claim of immortality. Supposedly everyone in this world is immortal, but that’s not really the case because they might be gleaned at any time. Additionally, it’s not clear what percentage of the population is gleaned.
Death just doesn’t seem rare. In fact, in the very first scene, Citra’s neighbor is gleaned. Citra and her family are afraid they might be gleaned, but they aren’t surprised when their neighbor is killed and they don’t grieve the neighbor. It was as if gleaning is a common occurrence. Because of this, I had a hard time believing the characters were immortal.
Additionally, characters mention how horrible it must have been in the mortal world to know you’ll die and not know when or how. Well, it’s the same in this immortal world. There’s no set rule as to when a person might be gleaned. Scythes are given quotas and then allowed to decide who they glean and why. While I found the different scythes’ rational for how they selected people to kill fascinating, it would have been helpful to know how rare gleaning actually was.
I wanted more (which is not necessarily a bad thing):
I would have liked to learn more about this world. It’s run by an artificial intelligence called the Thunderhead which controls everything except the gleanings. Apparently there’s no hunger, no crime, no war. How does the Thunderhead manage that? How did the perfect society come to be?
Furthermore, it’s mentioned that many people in this world lose their ambition, they’ll live forever after all, but I think this could have been developed more. I want to know how immortality has changed people. Maybe this will be explored in the future books?
Speaking of which, Scythe is the first of three books in The Arc of the Scythe Trilogy. In 2016, the book was optioned for a movie to be produced by Universal Studios. As of November 2021, the project is still in development.
How this book has affected my writing:
Because of Scythe, I realized I have to be very particular when it comes to world building. I don’t want to leave the reader guessing–I want them immersed in that world. Additionally, Scythe, like many other young adult novels, tends to overstate things. It’s as if the author isn’t confident his young audience won’t understand something the first time. In my books, I’ll trust the reader and will stay away from overstating situations, dialogue, and emotions.
I give Scythe 👍🏻 👍🏻 👍🏻 ( out of five) for creativity, pacing, and surprising twists.
What about you? If you read Scythe did you like it? Let me know!
Next Month’s book:
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This book won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, was a finalist for the National Book Award and PEN/Faulkner Award, and was named one of the best books of the year by more than a dozen publications. It’s been translated into 27 languages. None of this is much of a surprise as the writing is so good. Station Eleven now a TV series currently airing on HBO Max. I plan on reading the book (my second time) and then watching the series.
Where I’ll be in 2022:
Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference – March 19th and 20th, 2022. Registration is now open for the Chicago Writers Association’s premier writing conference at the Warwick Allerton Hotel in Chicago. I’ll present “The Benefits of Critiquing” and curate the Let’s Just Read! Live Lit Event. I can’t wait to attend this amazing in-person conference!