Book Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman


I discovered Neal Shusterman's novels over fifteen years ago when I was in high school and the dystopian novel wasn't over-published in YA books. I loved the art of his writing; clear and relatable characters, scenes that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand, and the tantalizing way he makes his readers believe that a character can disappear in an instant. For me, it was Full Tilt that hooked me and then Everlost that grabbed me by the shirt collar and made me a fan. At the end of my college studies, I revisited Shusterman with Unwind, and I lost sleep over his protagonist and even the villain struggling to maintain compassion in the most horrendous of plot twists that left me with the jaw agape stutter only the master-weavers of storytelling seem to do.

Neal Shusterman's Scythe is a clear-cut addition to my classic YA shelf. In the book, readers meet Citra and Rowan, two teenagers living in a post-death world, who become apprentices to a well-known scythe. In their dystopian world, death does not come veiled in infection, old age, or even drug consumption. Rather, it is presented from the palm of the ultimate assassin (quite the opposite even as to the cultural acceptance of death). Scythes live under their own set of commandments and exist apart from the ultimate AI god that is the Thunderhead. Citra and Rowan must learn the art of death and killing or else face their own in a showdown that is worthy of The Hunger Games and Divergent.

Okay, so I am not giving much away there, and I am purposely being facetious for a reason; the book is really good and deserves a read. I found myself warped between the two protagonists-- of which I believe Shusterman clearly wants us to favor Citra-- and left asking myself what makes a antagonist when all the main characters are murderers. Likewise, the adults in the novel are quite different than many we see in YA lit being that they are not absent-minded and frozen with ignorance towards teenage problems. Instead, we see a form of legacy that is void of family favoring inherited evil and strict reflection on villainy.

All opinions aside, the book does fall short to a few problems often seen in the YA dystopian genre. The primary being the plucking of a protagonist from home and family to become an apprentice in a "faraway" land quite different than the home culture/environment. Sometimes this trope can be justified (as it is in Scythe) by the hero's journey, while other times it is a failure in that the brush with the preternatural is for the sake of creating the coming of age cliché.

Another problem existing in this novel is the rushed ending that many YA dystopian genre texts contain to create a series rather than a full story arc. I wanted more at the end of the story, and I realize that it isn't me being selfish. In fact, when looking at the sheer plot of this novel, the culminating 'test' was only a fraction of the pages not even comparative to the exposition provided. I get it, publishers want to get YA readers to read more (not just for the simple fact that they can sell more books, but in my rather idealistic opinion, because of their compassion towards literacy). However, I would love to see a YA series that doesn't need a cliffhanger to continue-- especially one in the dystopian genre.

The last problem that was obvious was the partnering of male and female to create a love story and battle (for death) that YA writer's love. Girl meets boy or boy meets girl, they both leave home to the roughest life believable, they loose their favorite mentor, and then they are told they will fight until death. It is over-written, but nevertheless, it works in the YA dystopian genre. What saved this novel for me was the use of journaling throughout the text to break up the alternating perspectives along with the 'brained' adults who were three-dimensional and believable rather than the automatons that many of the bestselling YA lit use.

All rants aside, I really liked this book and felt that it brought to light many issues that great dystopian fiction does. I would recommend it to older teenagers with the insight that it isn't a happy story. This was a good read, and I will continue the series.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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