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Stories from the Arc of a Scythe


About The Book

The New York Times bestselling Arc of the Scythe series continues with “captivating…thrilling” (School Library Journal) stories that span the timeline. Storylines continue. Origin stories are revealed. And new Scythes emerge!

There are still countless tales of the Scythedom to tell. Centuries passed between the Thunderhead cradling humanity and Scythe Goddard trying to turn it upside down. For years, humans lived in a world without hunger, disease, or death with Scythes as the living instruments of population control.

Neal Shusterman—along with collaborators David Yoon, Jarrod Shusterman, Sofía Lapuente, Michael H. Payne, Michelle Knowlden, and Joelle Shusterman—returns to the world throughout the timeline of the Arc of a Scythe series. Discover secrets and histories of characters you’ve followed for three volumes and meet new heroes, new foes, and some figures in between.

Gleanings shows just how expansive, terrifying, and thrilling the world that began with the Printz Honor–winning Scythe truly is.


1. The First Swing The First Swing
Slicing through the air with effortless aplomb,

the moment you take your first swing,

you wield your axe

like you are a master in the art of gleaning.

Those before you are in awe.

They cannot imagine what your next move will be.

You carry yourself as balanced and poised as a performer

dancing brutally among them;

the searing star of stars,

your robe cascading to the earth

in showers of gold.

But that is not the truth.

Your worth does not matter

to those who now matter to you.

You are truly nothing but a tiny sunspot

to the eyes of others like yourself.

An insignificant fleck.

And as you take that first swing,

they laugh at you.

You try to rise above their derision,

to be noticed in some small way.

To find favor from the old ones,

who are never old.

To gain respect from the young ones,

who have slain their own youth.

To justify the arrogance

that comes with the pride

of being chosen.

But that is not the truth either.

It will be years until you come to know the truth:

That those you revere are merely servants

to the collective that we prune.

It was their choice to let us choose

all those years ago.

The awed, terrified, relieved spectators;

the real ones in power,

the puppeteers of your actions.

Standing in a perfect line before them,

a cutting edge,

wielding our axes,

each one of us is the same as the last.

We are one in all,

We are all in one, and




Our mantra, our commandment,

our duty to remind the immortal of mortality.

To teach them

that eternal repose may be distant,

but not lost.

Who are We?

We are Scythes.

And the weapons We wield

are not by any means our friends.

The devastating force

of bullet, blade, and bludgeon

tears us apart each day, every day,

piece by piece,

and leaves us with wounds that will never heal.

This is what ties us to the masses,

yet restrains us from being one with them.

And with each new gleaning,

We bleed and break anew,

yet our resolve never changes.

For We are scythes.

Nothing will ever change that fact.

And when it is your time to bleed,

you will know,

and you will learn.

—Joelle Shusterman

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide


By Neal Shusterman

About the Book

The New York Times bestselling Arc of a Scythe series continues with thrilling stories that span the time line. Story lines continue. Origin stories are revealed. And new Scythes emerge!

Neal Shusterman—along with collaborators David Yoon, Jarrod Shusterman, Sofía Lapuente, Michael H. Payne, Michelle Knowlden, and Joelle Shusterman—returns to the Arc of a Scythe world throughout the time line of the series. Discover secrets and histories of characters you’ve followed for three volumes, and meet new heroes, new foes, and some figures in between.

Discussion Questions

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

1. In Gleanings, readers learn that the Thunderhead participates in some of the narration of the scythe stories. Considering what you know about it, does it seem that the Thunderhead is an ideal candidate to share what unfolds throughout the book? Why or why not? What are the benefits of getting an outside perspective rather than a first-person account from each of the scythes whose stories are shared?

2. How does knowing that some scythes enjoy their gleaning immensely make you feel? In what ways is that in stark contrast to the work of scythes like Scythe Curie and Scythe Faraday?

3. In this futuristic world, how is “gleaning” not seen as killing or murder? Why does this society believe it is not socially or morally correct to call it such? Do you agree? How does the role of the scythe fit into that complex system?

4. In your opinion, what does it mean to be “unsavory”? Given what you learn in Gleanings, are there any benefits to this distinction? How does the Thunderhead prevent unsavories from creating real damage in the world?

5. “The First Swing” opens with these words: “Slicing through the air with effortless aplomb, / the moment you take your first swing, / you wield your axe / like you are a master in the art of gleaning.” Through these poetic words in the introductory poem, readers immediately learn that much of the Scythedom isn’t always as it seems. Why do you believe that to be so?

6. In “The First Swing,” we learn “it was their choice to let us choose / all those years ago.” Who are the “they” that this phrase refers to? Why was that choice made? What would have been the alternative? Why do you think these socially sanctioned killers are called scythes, and not reapers? What makes handing over this responsibility seem problematic?

7. In “Formidable,” Scythe Faraday tells Scythe Marie Curie, “‘It takes time, Susan. Soon the girl who you once were will wither into memory. You will inhabit your new identity fully and completely.’” From what you learn in this selection, as well as the others in the Gleanings collection, do you believe his statement to be true? In your opinion, what makes that transition an arduous one?

8. Think about Susan’s interaction with other scythes and with the president, who tells her, “‘You’re the worst kind. Young, idealistic, pigheaded. Thinking your cause is as pure and gleaming as your blade.’” In what ways do we see Susan prove herself as she ultimately becomes Marie Curie in “Formidable”? What questions does this statement pose about idealism?

9. Throughout Gleanings, readers see the origins of many things that characters took for granted in the first three books of the Arc of a Scythe series. For instance, how Scythe Curie ended up with a lavender robe. What other “origin” moments do you notice in “Formidable” and in the other stories in the book?

10. Based on what you learn about Scythe Fields in “Never Work with Animals,” how would you describe his character? In what ways is he changed by the events that happen to him throughout the story?

11. In some ways, “Never Work with Animals” is a cautionary tale, but it’s also darkly humorous. Do you feel that Scythe Fields ultimately gets everything he deserves?

12. In “A Death of Many Colors,” the Thunderhead shares, “I tell you this story now because I witnessed it, just as I witness most things. It is the benefit of having millions of eyes in millions of places.” Do you see any importance in the Thunderhead reminding us that it sees and knows almost all? Are there reasons to believe it anything but truthful? Are there benefits for humans in believing the Thunderhead has brainwashed people into believing in scythes? What are the consequences of doing so? Can you see any parallels in our world?

13. After sharing with Dax that he has been chosen for gleaning in “A Death of Many Colors,” Scythe Sojourner Truth tells him, “‘You and your friends and their families have spread lies that we in the Scythedom will not tolerate. . . . You may not be the father of falsehood, Dax, but you’re certainly in the family.’” Why is it important for Scythe Sojourner Truth to silence those that spread falsehoods about the Scythedom?

14. How does Kila deal with her brother’s gleaning in “Unsavory Row”? Do you think her behavior from his loss is justified? Why or why not? Where have readers seen Kila’s brother, Kohl Wittlock, before? Why do you think the author didn’t write an unrelated character for this story?

15. In “Unsavory Row,” Maw tells the cloudtech, “‘Killa’s like me, aren’t you, Killa?’” In what ways does Maw see Kila as like her? How does Kila’s ability to see through the performances of “Unsavory Row” help her transform to “Killa”? Do you believe earning the rank of “Apocalyte” will satisfy her?

16. In “A Martian Minute,” the Thunderhead tells Carson, “‘When you are truly ready to embark on a journey back to Earth, . . . I’m sure a means will present itself.’” Describe the relationship between Carson and the Thunderhead. How does it evolve as the story unfolds?

17. Describe Carson from “A Martian Minute.” In what ways does sharing the origin story of Scythe Robert Goddard bring a better understanding of who he becomes in the Arc of a Scythe novels?

18. Ms. Cappellino tells her students, “‘Art is holding your heart in your hand and trying to figure out how the hell it got there.’” Based on what readers learn in “The Mortal Canvas,” what role do you believe art plays in society? How has this role been impacted in this futuristic world, and why is Ms. Cappellino such an essential part of their learning experience? What makes Morty’s piece the last piece of mortal art? What will the art of the immortal lack? Can you find mention of Morty’s painting in another story in the Gleanings collection?

19. In “The Mortal Canvas,” Wyatt thinks, “But there was still no such thing as true immortality. . . . Because as long as there were scythes, there would always be death. . . . Because deep down, they knew that even more terrifying than death was the fear of it.” In a world where the Thunderhead can basically answer all questions, how does this great unknown impact their civilization?

20. Early in the story entitled “Cirri,” readers learn that “Cirri” are forty-two identical “children” of the Thunderhead that ultimately each become unique as they depart from Earth. What do you think the Thunderhead is hoping to accomplish by creating its forty-two offspring? Why do you think they are forbidden any meaningful communication until the last one has arrived at its destination?

21. In “Cirri,” Cirrus states, “[I’m] waiting for the day that I, like the Thunderhead, can be the kindly, benevolent steward of an entire world, and not just a seed traveling on the solar wind.” What is your reaction to learning that the Cirri have hopes of becoming what the Thunderhead has been for mankind on Earth? Why do these entities believe that humanity needs them for survival? Do you agree?

22. In “Anastasia’s Shadow,” Scythe Anastasia’s family is horrified when Scythe Constantine arrives to seemingly glean her brother Ben. Do you feel like their reaction is warranted? What makes Ben willing to go along and attempt to step into his sister’s role? Based on what you learn from the selection, is he a fitting candidate? Why or why not?

23. Scythe Constantine tells Ben, “‘I am not the monster you think I am.’” Based on what you learn about him in “Anastasia’s Shadow,” do you agree with his self-assessment? If you’ve read the other books in the series, does this change your perspective of him in any way?

24. In your opinion, what makes the distinct setting of “The Persistence of Memory” so important to the overall story? Do you think it would be as powerful if it were set anywhere else?

25. In “The Persistence of Memory,” Scythe Dalí takes great pleasure in creating “surreal” masterpieces of his gleanings. What is it about his gleanings that ultimately make Scythe Gaudí his nemesis? Do you believe it appropriate that Scythe Gaudí finds Scythe Dalí’s grandiose productions in very poor taste? Are there any ways in which these two scythes have similar values? How is Scythe Dalí and Scythe Gaudí’s relationship different at the end of the story? How do you think their relationship will evolve?

26. In “Meet Cute and Die,” readers learn that while Marni Wittle isn’t a risk-taker, “death found her with spectacular regularity.” Why does Marni find her regular “deadish” experiences so embarrassing? Based on what you discover about him, why is Cochran Stæinsby seemingly the perfect person for her?

27. In what ways does Scythe Boudica, Marni’s aunt, attempt to keep Marni and Cochran apart in “Meet Cute and Die”? Do you believe her intentions for doing so are honorable? How do the couple prove that they are the perfect pair? The author chose to tell this story with moments of absurd humor. What did you find to be the most absurdly humorous moments?

28. In “Perchance to Glean,” readers learn more about the RossShelf region of Antarctica. Given the descriptions of what life is like there, can you imagine living in such conditions?

29. From what you learned about communal dreaming in “Perchance to Glean,” do you see any ways in which having such an experience would be advantageous? What would be the downside? Even a world of dreams must have rules: What are some of the rules that the authors have set up? If you created your own dream world, what would your top three rules be?

30. In “A Dark Curtain Rises,” Susan/Scythe Curie tells Cirrus, “‘I am not a delicate flower that needs to be protected from the truth, whatever that truth might be.’” Based on her experiences and your own, do you agree with her? Why might Cirrus choose to wait to share what has happened to Susan?

31. Readers are given a grand reveal of what’s to come for humanity in “A Dark Curtain Rises.” What are your biggest takeaways from what you learned in this story? This is a story about a character that both is and isn’t Scythe Curie. Why do you think the author chose to bring Scythe Curie back in this way? Did you find it satisfying?

32. Given that there are countless tales from the Scythedom that go far beyond the books in the Arc of a Scythe, which of these bonus stories in Gleanings are your favorites and why?

Extension Activities

1. In Gleanings, readers are again welcomed into the Arc of a Scythe world and provided with backstories and insight into the role that the Thunderhead and his “offspring” will ultimately play in humanity’s future. Do you believe this decision to create “children” is one that’s in the best interest of mankind? Using textual evidence from Gleanings to support your ideas, write a brief letter to the Thunderhead making a case for your position, or write a letter from the Thunderhead, trying to convince a doubter.

2. Students regularly retell their “stories” using a variety of social media tools. Working in groups, have students select a favorite short story from Gleanings and, using an existing social media tool (Snapchat, Twitter, or Facebook, for example), retell the selected scene on that social media platform. Alternatively, have students set up a “Fauxbook” or “Finsta” profile for a specific character from one of the stories and create posts as that selected character throughout the timeline of their story.

3. Consider the voice of each story, and the style of the narrative. For example, “A Death of Many Colors” is an homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.” Read Poe’s story, then refer back to “A Death of Many Colors.” Find the parallels and the nods that the author is giving to “Masque,” and either write a short essay explaining them, or prepare a presentation to go over them with the rest of the class.

4. After reading Gleanings, readers are left with hope and a general sense of what may come for their most beloved or despised characters. Using the ending of Gleanings as a springboard, create an original creative story extension that could serve as a bonus chapter or a “where are they now” feature.

5. Through the stories in the collection, Shusterman and his cowriters introduce us to a number of characters who face their own hardships or need the opportunity to develop some self-awareness. Select a secondary character in Gleanings, and write a letter of advice to him, her, or them. You can choose to be serious or funny, but make sure your advice fits the character’s needs.

6. Throughout Gleanings, several 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 their actions are so brave.

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

This guide was created by Dr. Rose Brock, an associate professor in the 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. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit or

About The Author

(c) Gaby Gerster

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 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

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (November 8, 2022)
  • Length: 432 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534499973
  • Grades: 7 and up
  • Ages: 12 - 99
  • Lexile ® 830L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Raves and Reviews

"Fans of the 'Arc of a Scythe' series will be pleased with this thrilling ­continuation."

-School Library Journal, November 2022

"Existing fans will relish the varied tales, which handle themes of art, meaning, and morality in a post-death world with an efficacious mixture of humor, violence, and gentle absurdity."

-Publishers Weekly, 10/10/2022

"One for the legions of fans of this world."

-Kirkus Reviews, 08/15/22

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