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I know. To think about the end of life, death, is a topic that everyone is scared to talk about. It is depressing to be honest, but after I read the sci-fi page-turner Scythe by Neal Shusterman, I wasn’t scared anymore. In fact, it made me appreciate life more.

Through this book, I went into a temporary escape to a world governed by two corporations that run MidMerica (Future USA): Thunderhead, the governing body, and Scythedom, the army. Here, people don’t die of old age, or anything that involves physical damage to the human body, like jumping off a skyscraper. The only way for a life to end is to have a Scythe glean you. I love this word, and this is the alternative synonym from now on. So what does this mean? It’s a chosen method, a ritual, by the Scythe, and how you glean tells a lot about who you are.

Now enter the two main characters, Citra and Rowan, who are to be chosen by Scythe Brahms, an honorable old (probably the oldest) sage, to be his apprentices. The funny thing is…neither of them WANTS to be a scythe, so they’re agitated deep inside. Only one of them can become a true Scythe, and they work to NOT be the chosen ones, but let’s not spoil the book about who becomes the ‘unlucky’ one. I could write a whole new book review about what it means to run away from your fate but come to accept it. Sometimes we have to be courageous and rise up to the situation, but this book review is about gleaning, and an equally thought-provoking question came to mind as I was grabbing the pages tighter. That is, who determines the gleaning—us or the ones with power? In this world, they might not have the freedom to choose how to be gleaned, and in the real world, I think we have similar limitations. Then, I started asking my family and friends around me. How would you like to be gleaned (after explaining what that meant)?

Everyone had different answers. One said going into a deep, happy sleep where pain is no longer felt, and then drift off into another dimension. I like that one. The other said having one big party with everyone you love with an unforgettable feast, and then entering a door that says ‘Yay, you made it to the other side!” What I realized is that when you give people freedom as to how they want to be gleaned, it’s positive, which makes us positive creatures. When we think about the end, we want happiness and joy not only for us, but for the people around us. As soon as there is control, then we turn into negativity. This is always the central message of dystopian novels, it seems like.

The reason I love this book, and why everyone should read it is because thinking about gleaning is a part of life and what it means to be free. We live on this Earth not knowing what’s going to happen next, but we know that we are more likely to suffer psychologically if we get gleaned in a way that we dislike. This is also important in difficult areas like capital punishment or euthanasia rights or just giving people the right to close the life chapter with a smile. So, don’t be afraid to give this book a try. You’ll see that the end of life is just as important as how you live the best life now.

Scythe by Neal Schusterman. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017. Buy the book here and help support Stone Soup in the process!

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