May 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Teens Review Neal Shusterman’s “Scythe,” New Nonfiction, and More

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Check out what the members of the Kitsap (WA) Regional Library YA Book Group think about Neal Shusterman’s Scythe, Cassandra Clare’s latest fantasy, and Catherine Reef’s Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse, among other titles.

shadowhunterCLARE, Cassandra. Tales from Shadowhunter Academy. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. Nov. 2016. Tr $23.99. ISBN 9781481443258.      

Gr 7 Up–This book was a sequel, and I have to say, it lived up to its predecessors. I loved it.

I liked the cover, but didn’t love it, although it reflected the contents of the book well.

I was disappointed that the Parabatai ceremony between Clary and Simon didn’t happen. Like, there is no story about that event!

You know that quote about 10,000 hours making you perfect? In the Shadowhunter world, it is more like 1,000,000 hours, and this book encompasses this perfectly.–Madeline W., 14

MOYER, Jenny. Flashfall. Holt. Nov. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781627794817.

flashfallGr 8 Up–This is a fast-paced sci-fi novel featuring protagonist Orion, one of the poor miners from a place called Outpost 5 who must mine a rare and dangerous metal to win her freedom. But when Orion is deported, her plans change for good.

I loved the cover! It really drew me in, and I think it really is true to the story, or at least makes sense.

The most compelling aspect of the book for me was the characters. They were so richly developed, with background and history and goals that made sense.

I think that the beginning and middle of this book are amazing! However, I think the book should end when [SPOILER] Orion escapes from Cordon 5 and meets the Congies. After that, it feels like the ending is rushed and doesn’t totally make sense. There is no transition time. I really think that the book should end there and there should be a sequel! Also, this should be a movie!–Olivia V., 13

REEF, Catherine. Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse. Clarion. Nov. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780544535800.       

Gr 7 Up–Florence Nightingale was born into an upper-class family that continually rejected her dream of becoming a nurse. Slowly, she pushed to fulfill her dream of doing the job that she was meant to do: reforming the way nursing was done and changing the treatment of the sick.

florenceI did not like the cover. It looked more like a zombie story than a nonfiction book about Florence Nightingale. The doctor’s symbol intertwined with the title looks like a tattoo on Florence’s neck. The cover of the book definitely does not reflect the contents. The cover should represent what Florence is known for: her hard work in the field of nursing.

The most compelling aspect of this book was learning more about Florence Nightingale than is common knowledge. She was different than I had thought she would be. I also thought it was interesting how Florence dealt with the ideas of the time period. Florence was not striving for women’s rights through her work as a nurse. She even disapproved of women becoming doctors and held back knowledge from some of the women nurses whom she trained. This was different than I had expected. I also thought it was surprising how nice Florence was to her family, even though they did everything they could to foil her plan of becoming a nurse until it was socially acceptable for her to get a job.

I was disappointed that the book skimmed so quickly over the two revelations that Florence received from God. They are the reason that Florence decided to become a nurse, but very little detail was provided, and the brief detail given was stated awkwardly.–Olivia C., 15

SHUSTERMAN, Neal. Scythe. Nov. 2016. S. & S. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781442472426.

Gr 8 Up–Two teens struggle with their morality after being chosen to become Scythes, the people who control overpopulation by “gleaning” others at random.

“We must, by law, keep a record of all the innocents we kill.” Thus opens Scythe, the first book in “The Arc of a Scythe” series, by Neal Shusterman. I was a huge fan of the “Unwind” dystology and of Challenger Deep, so I knew to expect great things from this book. I just didn’t know how great it would be. While there were some logistical issues with the setup of the world, I missed it during my first read because I was so engrossed. The book is a change from other YA novels, because it depicts not a dystopia, but an almost-perfect utopia. The organization that is the Scythedom is the only aspect of this universe that makes it almost perfect. Scythes are the ones tasked with killing people at random in order to stop overpopulation. Shusterman deals with the ethical problems posed by this with the touch of a master writer, and he is able to show how morals make us human. And when it comes to the plot, Shusterman delivers. Never before have I read a book that had such twists. Every time that I thought I knew what would happen next, it proved me wrong.

scytheI know that they say never to judge a book by its cover, but sometimes you can make assumptions on the quality of the book based solely on the cover. This is one of those books. Typically, you can expect a great cover from Simon and Schuster, and this one is no exception. The first thing you notice is the person wearing a robe and holding a black scythe. The only issue I have with the cover is the decision to make the scythe black. In the books, they go out of their way to explain that a Scythe should be their embodiment of light, and yet, the scythe on the cover is black.

Shusterman has a history of creating believable and realistic characters. (Read Challenger Deep to see what I’m talking about.) Both the main characters, Citra and Rowan, are realistic and face the prospect of being a Scythe with the expected horror. At first, I thought that Rowan would be the most likable character. However, that idea changed again and again, with a different character in the lead each time. Now, I don’t normally show too much emotion when I read. In fact, the last book I remember crying while I read was The Fault in Our Stars, several years ago. But this book made me stop. It made me think. And while it didn’t make me cry, it came close to it. The last book I read that had the characters show pure, unadulterated emotion was Challenger Deep, also by Neal Shusterman. This author is capable of some of the most beautiful writing of the modern age.–Thadeus S., 15


In a world where all disease has been cured, every world conflict has been solved, and life seems almost too simple, Citra and Rowan are two teens apprenticed to a Scythe, the only type of person who has a license to kill (which is called gleaning in the book) whomever they want, whenever they want. It’s an apprenticeship that neither of them wants and it proves more difficult to accomplish as they are plotted against one another.

Only one apprentice can be ordained, and the winner has to glean the loser. The task grows more difficult when the Honorable Scythe Faraday dies by alleged suicide and both of his apprentices are pawned off, raising constant questions. Does Citra seriously believe that Rowan would ever win the competition? I mean, please; all he does to lead her off the track is break her neck, and they revive her afterwards. And seriously, WTF Rowan; breaking her neck is not a nice thing to do to a girl you “supposedly” have feelings for, even if she can be revived using future technology.

I liked the cover because it had a very menacing yet intriguing weapon with a woman’s face silhouetted against the blade and shaft. The girl, dressed in red, appears to be the grim reaper. It’s a clever cover, yet I feel like both of the main characters should be outlined on it.

What I liked about the book was one of the conflicts. I liked wondering how the conflict with Scythe Goddard would play out and also wondering about how a society would ever grow to need people licensed to kill. It’s such a genius idea to place a book plot around, and I couldn’t help myself from seeing how Shusterman would play it out.

I was only slightly disappointed with a very small part of the plot, not with the overall genius of the story. I felt as though Shusterman wanted to make the two main characters, Citra and Rowan, fall for each other, yet the love he tried to create seemed awkward and forced. I never really got the sense that they were anywhere near the point of saying “I love you”; in fact, when I read over Rowan’s dialogue when he says that in the end, I thought it was a joke. I know there should be a romance in here, but the two characters are never really given thoughtful time to spend with each other, and love (dare I call it that) isn’t even hinted at until the end.–Sam G., 15

Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz ( is School Library Journal's Reviews Team Manager and SLJTeen newsletter editor. She has her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.