Written by Neal Shusterman
A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control. Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.
Primary Source Pairing:
“2042. It’s a year that every schoolchild knows. It was the year where computational power became infinite – or so close to infinite that it could no longer be measured. It was the year we knew…everything. ‘The cloud’ evolved into ‘the Thunderhead,’ and now all there is to know about everything resides in the near-infinite memory of the Thunderhead for anyone who wants to access it” (page 29).
In this futuristic setting, the Thunderhead has become all-knowing and all-controlling. The Thunderhead anticipates and provides for the needs of earth. The Thunderhead eliminated sickness, repairs infrastructure, and eradicated crime. Citra and Rowan have grown up with the Thunderhead. They have grown up in an age of immortality. To control the ever-growing population, Scythes “glean” or kill people. Citra and Rowan are recruited as apprentices and their worlds shift as they learn a new lifestyle.
For this primary source pairing, invite students to study a photograph of an early computer in the 1960s at Offut Air Force Base in Nebraska. The technology we all carry in our pockets and backpacks is monumentally stronger than this large computer in this photograph. Discuss with students the concept of the Thunderhead that Shusterman proposes in this book and how much more innovation technology will experience in our lifetimes.
Questions for Discussion:
- Describe what you see.
- What do you notice first?
- Is there any text you can read? What does it say?
- Find something small but interesting.
- What do you notice that you didn’t expect?
- What do you notice that you can’t explain?
- What do you see that looks strange or unfamiliar?
Book Cover and Summary: Follett
Offut AFB (computers), photographer Thomas J. O’Halloran, Library of Congress