"Scythe" wins 2022 Alexandria Award
The Center for Literacy Education at the University of Notre Dame has named “Scythe,” a novel by Neal Shusterman about a future society that has conquered death, the 2022 winner of the Alexandria Award.
The Alexandria Award recognizes a middle grade or young adult book that advances Gospel values through the positive actions and portrayals of tenacious adolescents. It is named for Saint Catherine of Alexandria, an adolescent Christian of the fourth century who was an eager student and a famed orator.
“Scythe” is the story of a world with no hunger, disease, war or misery. Having conquered death, humanity turns to scythes as the only means to keep the size of the population under control. Two teenagers, Citra and Rowan, have been chosen as scythe apprentices, a role neither wants.
“‘Scythe’ poses deep philosophical, moral and ethical questions that make it an exciting and different pick for the Alexandria Award,” said Michael Macaluso, the founder of the award and an assistant teaching professor in the Center for Literacy Education and the Alliance for Catholic Education’s Teaching Fellows program. “It depicts a society where humanity has eradicated poverty, disease, inequality and even death through advanced technology, medicine and artificial intelligence. But that brings consequences that will compel readers to examine what makes life worth living. The award committee felt that the literary quality of the book along with its explicit contemporary connections and implicit commentaries on the value and right to life made it a clear standout this year.”
The Center for Literacy Education, which is housed in Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives, created the award to respond to the need for high-quality, highly engaging contemporary books in the classroom and the desire of Catholic school teachers to teach classroom books — classic or contemporary — through a lens of faith and Catholic social teaching.
“What an incredible honor it is to win the Alexandria Award!” Shusterman said. “I wrote ‘Scythe’ not just as a science fiction story, but as a philosophical study of achieving the things we want in this world — such as longevity, peace, an end to suffering and AI as a benevolent force. I wanted to explore the consequences of reaching a world where humanity has become the immortal arbiters of life and death, while at the same time making it exciting and accessible to all readers. It’s a wonderful validation that the University of Notre Dame has chosen to recognize ‘Scythe.’”
Shusterman will be a featured speaker at Notre Dame’s Excellence in Teaching Conference, an annual event offering professional development and enrichment for educators hosted by the institute. This year’s conference is themed Reading for a Better World and will be held March 10-12, at Notre Dame.
More than 500 copies of the book will be given to schools across the country, including local schools in South Bend, Indiana, and will be accompanied by a curriculum insert featuring suggested classroom learning goals, activities and discussion guides for thinking about the book through a lens of faith and Catholic social teaching.
“At a time when the value of human life has grown thin among many, and the chasm between science and morality threatens to widen in dangerous ways, ‘Scythe’ is a powerful alarm bell to young readers,” said Fr. Lou DelFra, C.S.C., a member of the award committee and the director of pastoral life for the Alliance for Catholic Education. “It’s a call to their innate goodness and the hope they represent, to change their future.”
St. Catherine is the patron of students, librarians and educators, and the award commemorates her youth, bravery, tenacity, enthusiasm for education and her home in Alexandria — famed location of the Great Library. St. Catherine boldly defended the faith and protested injustices of her time, including the persecution of Christians. Her efforts led to the conversion of hundreds of people before she was martyred at 18.