Scythe (Arc of a Scythe Series #1)

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe Series #1)

by Neal Shusterman


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Two teens must learn the “art of killing” in this Printz Honor–winning book, the first in a chilling new series from Neal Shusterman, author of the New York Times bestselling Unwind dystology.

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.

Scythe is the first novel of a thrilling new series by National Book Award–winning author Neal Shusterman in which Citra and Rowan learn that a perfect world comes only with a heavy price.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781442472433
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 11/28/2017
Series: Arc of a Scythe Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 3,654
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Neal Shusterman is the New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty award-winning books for children, teens, and adults, including the Unwind dystology, the Skinjacker trilogy, Downsiders, and Challenger Deep, which won the National Book Award. Scythe, the first book in his newest series, Arc of a Scythe, is a Michael L. Printz Honor Book. He also writes screenplays for motion pictures and television shows. Neal is the father of four, all of whom are talented writers and artists themselves. Visit Neal at and

Read an Excerpt


  • It is the most difficult thing a person can be asked to do. And knowing that it is for the greater good doesn’t make it any easier. People used to die naturally. Old age used to be a terminal affliction, not a temporary state. There were invisible killers called “diseases” that broke the body down. Aging couldn’t be reversed, and there were accidents from which there was no return. Planes fell from the sky. Cars actually crashed. There was pain, misery, despair. It’s hard for most of us to imagine a world so unsafe, with dangers lurking in every unseen, unplanned corner. All of that is behind us now, and yet a simple truth remains: People have to die.

    It’s not as if we can go somewhere else; the disasters on the moon and Mars colonies proved that. We have one very limited world, and although death has been defeated as completely as polio, people still must die. The ending of human life used to be in the hands of nature. But we stole it. Now we have a monopoly on death. We are its sole distributor.

    I understand why there are scythes, and how important and how necessary the work is . . . but I often wonder why I had to be chosen. And if there is some eternal world after this one, what fate awaits a taker of lives?

    —From the gleaning journal of H.S. Curie

  • Reading Group Guide

    A Reading Group Guide to


    By Neal Shusterman

    About the Book

    Two teens must learn the “art of killing” in the first book in a chilling new series from Neal Shusterman, author of the New York Times bestselling Unwind dystology.

    In a world where disease has been eliminated, the only way to die is to be randomly killed (“gleaned”) by professional reapers (“scythes”). Citra and Rowan are teenagers who have been selected to be scythe’s apprentices, and despite wanting nothing to do with the vocation, they must learn every method of ending life and come to understand the necessity of what they do.

    Only one of them will be chosen as a scythe’s apprentice. And when it becomes clear that the winning apprentice’s first task will be to glean the loser, Citra and Rowan are pitted against each other in a fight for their lives.

    Discussion Questions

    The following questions may be utilized throughout the study of Scythe as targeted questions for discussion and reflection, or alternatively, they can be used to as reflective writing prompts.

    1. The first entry from the gleaning journal of H. S. Curie states, “We must, by law, keep a record of the innocents we kill. And as I see it, they’re all innocents. Even the guilty.” Why does Curie see mankind as both innocent and guilty? In your opinion, does that matter?

    2. Why can “gleaning” not be referred to as “killing”? Why does this society believe it’s socially or morally incorrect to call it such? Do you agree? How does the role of the scythe fit into that complex system?

    3. Curie shares that “scythes provide a crucial service for society.” In what ways are her understanding of her work correct? From what you discovered in the novel, what are the biggest challenges to serving as a scythe? Can you think of any ways that the position offers benefits to the scythe?

    4. As the novel opens, Honorable Scythe Faraday visits Citra’s home while he waits to pay a visit to their neighbor. His multilayered robe is described as “smooth ivory linen,” not black, because “black was an absence of light and scythes were the opposite. Luminous and enlightened, they were acknowledged as the very best of humanity—which is why they were chosen for the job.” Based on what you learn about Scythe Faraday, what can be inferred about his choice of robe color? What additional early information about him can be garnered by his interaction with both Citra and her family?

    5. Citra thinks, “No surprise that people bent over backwards to please scythes in every possible way. Hope in the shadow of fear is the world’s most powerful motivator.” Do you agree? What role does hope have in motivating others? In what ways do people strive to accommodate and influence scythes?

    6. After Citra asks Scythe Faraday about his age and is admonished by her mother, he tells them, “I like direct questions. They show an honesty of spirit.” What other qualities about Citra do you find Faraday is most drawn to? What is your analysis of her character? Is she someone you’d befriend if given the chance?

    7. Consider what you’ve learned about Citra and Rowan. What is it about these two teens that make them seem like appropriate candidates as scythe apprentices? In what ways are they similar, and how are they different? Given what you discover about them, is there one character you like better than the other? If so, why?

    8. Throughout the novel, Citra and Rowan learn that there is a right way to glean. Do you agree? Can you make a case for this component in this future society?

    9. After learning more about Citra’s father’s historical research, Faraday declares, “The past never changes—and from what I can see, neither does the future.” Citra believes that to a degree, he is actually correct. Why have Faraday’s experiences left him feeling this way? Do you agree with his assessment? Why is it important to continue to study the past and look for fresh perspectives about history?

    10. After meeting Rowan for the first time at Kohl’s gleaning, Faraday tells Rowan, “You stood your ground for a boy you barely knew. You comforted him at the moment of his death, bearing the pain of the jolt. You bore witness, even though no one called you to do so.” Why does this act impress Faraday so much?

    11. Faraday tells Rowan, “Remember that good intentions pave many roads. Not all of them lead to hell.” What do you believe he means by this statement? Do you agree? Why or why not?

    12. Did learning that Scythe Faraday attends the funerals of those he gleans surprise you? For what reason do you think it’s significant that he does this?

    13. Review the Scythes’ Commandments. Is there anything about these mandates that you find unusual or surprising?

    14. In the instructions Faraday gives Citra and Rowan, he tells them, “You shall study history, the great philosophers; the sciences. You will come to understand the nature of life, and what it means to be human before you are permanently charged with the taking of life. You will also study all forms of killcraft, and become experts.” What do you believe are his motivations to have his apprentices study both the arts and sciences? How does this benefit them and their potential future work?

    15. Based on your initial impressions of Scythe Faraday and what you learn about him over the course of the novel, does your opinion of him change in any way and if so, how? How was his leadership style different from that of Scythe Curie and Scythe Goddard? Do you see Citra or Rowan being more aligned with Faraday’s philosophies about mankind and gleaning? In what ways might this impact the two apprentices?

    16. Rowan tells Volta, “I know you’re not like the others.” Do you agree with Rowan’s assessment? In what ways are Rowan and Volta alike? Are there any ways they are different?

    17. Volta states that Scythe Goddard is “the future.” Given what you have learned about the new guard of scythes, what makes that so disconcerting? What do you believe motivates Goddard to behave the way he does?

    18. During their sparring match, why does Citra become so angry at Rowan’s actions? For the pair, how does the knowledge that only one of them is to survive make them feel? In what ways do each of them work to protect the other when they are forced to fight?

    19. Why does Citra become so committed to understanding the details of Faraday’s last day? Do you think she is right to grow suspicious about his death? Consider the consequences of her actions: How does her need to learn what happened put her in danger, and why are those involved in his death so worried the truth will be revealed? What was your reaction to the realization that things may not be as they appear?

    20. Compare the traditional scythes to the new celebrity scythes. In what ways do these two groups take the understanding of their work differently? How do those differences ultimately impact the citizens in their world?

    21. Compare the ways in which Citra and Rowan deal with each other and their apprenticeships. What can be learned about the character of each from these interactions and relationships?

    22. Given the ending of Scythe, share your predictions for the next installment of this thrilling series.

    Extension Activities

    1. The gleaning journal of H. S. Curie states that “People used to die naturally. Old age used to be a terminal affliction, not a temporary state. There was pain, misery, and despair.” How does this future world without diseases, aging, transportation crashes, and “danger lurking in every unseen, unplanned corner” compare to the world you know? After completing your reading of Scythe, write an essay that analyzes these two worlds.

    2. Faraday states, “A scythe is merely the instrument of death, but it is your hand that swings me. You and your parents and everyone else in this world are the wielders of scythes. We all are accomplices. You must share the responsibility.” Consider Faraday’s words. Based on what you know about your world and his, do you agree? Compose a response to Faraday where you share your position.

    3. For Citra and Rowan, being selected as a scythe’s apprentice has obviously had a profound impact on their lives and their relationships with others. Throughout the novel, as they learn more about the role and responsibility of being a scythe, they become increasingly empowered to take control of their lives and choices. After taking a moment to reflect on your life’s most personal challenges, draft a journal or diary entry focusing on the ways you’ve already overcome obstacles and listing the strategies you plan to use to deal with those you are still facing.

    4. Throughout Scythe, Shusterman infuses his story with rich, powerful, figurative language. Embark on a literary scavenger hunt throughout the book to locate your favorite examples of phrases or quotes. Create a sharable quote card image to be published on a social media site of your choice.

    5. While the novel focuses on the relationship between Scythe Faraday, Citra, and Rowan, Shusterman introduces us to a number of secondary characters who face their own hardships or need the opportunity to have some self-awareness. Select a secondary character in Scythe and write a letter of advice to him/her. You can choose to be serious or funny, just make sure your advice fits the character’s needs.

    6. Throughout Scythe, a number of characters exhibit acts of bravery. Consider the individual actions of these characters. Who do you believe to be the most courageous? Write a letter to that character explaining why you believe his/her actions are so brave.

    7. Assume the role of one of the secondary characters in Scythe and draft a diary entry detailing what you experienced and witnessed. To prepare, create an outline using the five W’s (who, what, when, where, and why). Remember to write in first person and give special attention to sensory imagery (what you saw, smelled, heard, etc.).

    8. Consider the shift in philosophy from our world where a digital network “cloud” and artificial intelligence is feared to a future where a “Thunderhead” provides a “perfect world.” Do you believe utopias are possible? Here in the United States, a number of utopian communities have been established over time. Select a community or society to research, making sure to explore the principles that guided the community as well as the assumptions about those core beliefs. For what you learn, share why you believe this community was ultimately unable to sustain itself.

    This guide was created by Dr. Rose Brock, an assistant professor in Library Science Department in the College of Education at Sam Houston State University. Dr. Brock holds a Ph.D. in Library Science, specializing in children’s and young adult literature.

    This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

    Customer Reviews

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    Scythe (Arc of a Scythe Series #1) 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 52 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I love Neal Shusterman, and his writing style. This book will not let you down! His commentary on government and abuse of power is thought provoking. The characters are well rounded and well developed as is the plot. Highly recommend!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This is a book that will stick with you lodge itself in a crack in your psyche and not let go. It tackles the problems of immortality and the truth of compassion and justice. It does not make the unimaginable act of killing ok, if anything it brings into clarity why it is wrong and the true consequences of the end of a life. May we all strive to be more than the lettuce and be people of substance, compassion, and fortitude.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I couldn't put it down. Seriously. Absolutely perfect. Can't wait for the next one.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This was my first re-read and I still love this book as much as I did when I first read it a year ago. Rowan and Citra are awesomely mind-blowing, equally strong and different in their own ways. On to the next book!!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Perfectly written, with an amazing storyline
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Interesting read
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I loved this book from cover to cover!!! I'd write a longer review but Thunderhead is waiting for me!
    Anonymous 3 months ago
    I loved reading this book, can’t wait to read the rest of the series
    Anonymous 5 months ago
    this book left me in chills it WAS SO FRICKEN GOOD 5 STARS
    Anonymous 7 months ago
    Wow! This was such a phenomenal book. The author has such an amazing writing style! I was automatically interested when this book was recommended to me, so much so that I went to Barnes and Nobles specifically for Scythe. I love the idea of adding in the scythes journals to see their thoughts and add to the story. If you buy this book you will not put it down!
    Anonymous 7 months ago
    It's a really really good book. I couldn't put it down
    Cakethecake 9 months ago
    A Barnes & Noble employee recommended this book to me last year and I finished a good portion of it before I even left the store! this is a great series that you should totally check out and try to finish before the third book comes out on November 5, 2019 (it has not come out at the time of writing)
    NovelKnight More than 1 year ago
    Scythe was one of those books that took forever to get going and then smashed through my expectations at the end. I had so many people recommend this book to me, raving how amazing it was, and for nearly 70% of the book, I thought we were reading two different stories. After a sucker-punch twist of an ending, I finished Scythe wanting to read the sequel but not feeling much for the book itself. First and foremost, I've never read a book with a premise like this. AI has taken over the world and everyone lives forever which caused some issues with overpopulation. Introduce Scythes who "glean" people at random to keep the population in check. I was hooked immediately. . . once I got to the part where all this was explained. We see the world of the Scythes through apprentices Rowan and Citra. I didn't particularly care about either one for the entire book which wasn't a good sign, but their character development over the course of the book was spot on and really showed their growth and maturity as the weight of death fell on their shoulders. I'm hoping my connection to them strengthens once I get to the sequel. This was definitely more a read for the world than the story. I loved how Shusterman wove in modern issues into this future world where everything seems perfect. An AI utopia. But then we start getting a glimpse into the world of killing as a mercy vs killing for sport and the impact it has on the apprentices and those around them. Scythes have full power in this world to do as they wish. The only thing I never understood was the gleaning weapons. For a good bit of the book, Citra and Rowan train with different weapons and fighting styles but it felt a contrast to the perfect world that they could use something like a knife or gun when painless options also existed. That said, I struggled to find fault with this book. While I couldn't get into it, personally, for the longest time, I don't think that was an issue with the book as much as it was my mood and interest in a dystopian YA novel. I've had bad experiences with the genre in the past and usually avoid it now but I'm glad I didn't with Scythe. This book makes you question everything you know about our world and morality. By the end, I was more than hooked. I couldn't stop listening! And I do recommend the audiobook, for anyone curious about it. The narrator was fantastic and created almost a detached storytelling experience that really worked with this book and the plot. After Scythe, I immediately downloaded the audiobook for the sequel, Thunderhead, and I'm really looking forward to listening to it!
    Kibbyra More than 1 year ago
    Full review can be found at Actual Rating: 4.5 stars Scythe is the kind of book that sinks it’s claws into you and drags you through a world you’ve never seen before and will likely never see again. This YA novel is a hugely underrated utopian thriller that devours its reader with break neck plot twists and intriguing insights into what our world could become if we defeated death. I went into Scythe expecting to like this book, but never did I imagine I’d end up loving it as much as I did. This novel has found its place among my favorite books of all time. Do not be like me and let this book languish, unread, on your book shelves for months or years. Pick it up immediately and start reading.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book was solidly enjoyable and the premise intriguing. In a world that has conquered injury and illness and thus death, the need arises for Scythes, people ordained for random killing (“gleaning”) to keep the population in check. This is what teenagers Rowan and Citra are training to become under a kind, just Scythe Faraday. This book is full of interesting, thought-provoking, and philosophical conversations about morality and mortality. It also shows that even in a seemingly utopic society, discord, corruption, and evil can still fester and come to power. There are no rules to how Scythes can glean, and as such, this book provides several Scythes techniques. From Honorable Scythe Faraday, who is all about the statistics of death from the Age of Mortality (life before death was eradicated), to Honorable Scythe Curie, who looks for people who have tired of immortality, to Honorable Scythe Goddard, who isn’t as honorable as his title and who has gathered a following of other Scythes to partake in mass gleanings. The characters in this book were very strong. Citra is strong-willed and intelligent, and while I found her to be a little bit whiny at the beginning, she fights for what is right and what is fair, and that’s an admirable trait to have. Rowan is quiet and thoughtful, and he undergoes the most change when circumstances arise and he is placed under the tutelage of Goddard. His change isn’t necessarily for the best, and his moral code is definitely more gray-scale than before, but I believe he still remains a truly good person at heart. Scythes Faraday, Curie, Goddard, and the others were also intriguing to read about, as they’re all very different people and they all perform their duties under different moral codes and guidelines. The only thing I didn’t particularly like was the sudden romance between Rowan and Citra. It is by no means the main focus of the story, but there are undercurrents of it. I thought they were friends at best, but I had trouble believing the sudden jump to love interest. But again, it isn’t the main point of the book, so it was easy to overlook and excuse. This book, while a little slow at times, caught and kept my attention for its entirety. I found this world an interesting place to be and I’m eager to read the next book in the series.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    One of my new favs!!! Would recommend to anyone!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book was everything I every wanted in a novel. Lately, I've really been into dystopian novels, but this one was really different in a good way. 100% recommend ?
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I had to stop reading, page 109 was the final straw. I could not get invested in any of the characters. The writing is slow, cyclical and pretentious. The universe seemed interesting at first but after reading it seems entirely unrealistic. The "budding romance" is entirely forced and unnecessary. I understand it's a young adult novel but there are so many themes that could have been explored with the absence of romance. I don't know how this book won a prize.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book is one of a kind
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Highly enjoyable read! I really liked it
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Something I can believe in th e future. That is what makes it incredible
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I read alot of book this is my favorit
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    SDMaxwell More than 1 year ago
    This book is about the apprenticeship of Citra and Rowan into the Scythe order in a world in which people don’t die naturally anymore. The world is run by an all-knowing AI called the Thunderhead, which evolved from the Cloud and which has eliminated natural dead. Instead, people have to be gleaned by Scythes, humans given control over population control. Scythes have been put above all law (except their own small set) and are so untouchable by the Thunderhead that it won’t speak to them or actively recognize them in any way. I was originally interested in how the scythedom worked but the point of view I was given was kind of meh. I never connected to Citra at all. I didn’t really understand what made her a good pick. And nothing she said or did after really made me root for her. Rowan was more interesting, especially when he’s under Goddard as an apprentice. He has more moral dilemma he faces and more internal conflicts over how he views killing. But this is only because he’s taught by the baddest bad guy of the series who runs all the stereotypical bad guy tropes. I had a few issues with the world building in this book. Normally, that’s a big sticking point for me. You can have lackluster characters and I’ll accept a book if the world around them keeps me distracted. But it must be interesting, and it has to make sense. The first thing that stood out to me was that the author apparently has no idea what the Cloud actually is. I mean, I suppose to the casual observer, it’s a single being that houses information but … no. It’s really not. Another point was that of course there was going to be corruption within the scythedom. Humans fall to temptation all the time. They may have started with a sterling pure idea but all it would take is one new generation of scythes to screw the entire idea up. Two-hundred years from people who don’t naturally die? With ultimate power? Hah. I’m surprised it took as long as it did for things to go bad. The entire plot of this book was just … kinda boring and predictable. The two are apprentices to be scythes. For no reason that makes any sense they’re pitted against each other during their year-long apprenticeship so that at the end, they have to compete, and the winner has to glean the loser. No seriously. We’re totally not seeing any corruption in this choice. And then their mentor gleans himself out of the blue and they’re split up, one to the “good” scythe and one to the Bad Guy. Obviously, one is given a caring environment while the other is inexplicably tormented for their apprenticeship. Obviously, I had some issues with this book. They really stuck out because the characters are flat and the plot is lackluster and then the author decided the book needed a romance and it had like … no buzz. Not even a little. They barely even had chemistry as friends. I’ve seen antagonistic roommates with better chemistry. However, I listened to this as an audiobook and Greg Tremblay is outstanding. I got a kick out of his Faraday voice because the way he presented the character and the speaking patterns he used made him sound like Nathan Fillion to my ears and that made my day. Despite all my bitching, I give this book a 1.5 out of 5 stars. Obviously, that’s a 2 star on Goodreads and the like but it gets that .5 for Greg’s Faraday.