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The Toll

Book #3 of Arc of a Scythe

About The Book

“A furiously paced finale that reaches for the stars.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Gripping.” —School Library Journal (starred review)
“Stellar.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

In the highly anticipated finale to the New York Times bestselling trilogy, dictators, prophets, and tensions rise. In a world that’s conquered death, will humanity finally be torn asunder by the immortal beings it created?

Citra and Rowan have disappeared. Endura is gone. It seems like nothing stands between Scythe Goddard and absolute dominion over the world scythedom. With the silence of the Thunderhead and the reverberations of the Great Resonance still shaking the earth to its core, the question remains: Is there anyone left who can stop him?

The answer lies in the Tone, the Toll, and the Thunder.


Chapter 1: Surrender to the Momentum
We of the SubSaharan region take extreme umbrage with High Blade Goddard’s removal of gleaning quotas. The quotas have stood since time immemorial as a way to regulate the taking of life—and, while not officially one of the scythe commandments, quotas have kept us on track. They have prevented us from being either too bloodthirsty, or too lax.

While several other regions have now abolished quotas as well, SubSahara stands with Amazonia, Israebia, and numerous other regions in resisting this ill-advised change.

Further, any and all MidMerican scythes are banned from gleaning on our soil—and we urge other regions to join us in resisting Goddard’s so-called new order from establishing a chokehold on the world.

—Official proclamation from His Excellency, High Blade Tenkamenin of SubSahara

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide to

Arc of a Scythe #3: The Toll

By Neal Shusterman

About the Book

In the highly anticipated finale to the New York Times bestselling Arc of a Scythe trilogy, dictators, prophets, and tensions rise. In a world that’s conquered death, will humanity finally be torn asunder by the immortal beings it created? Citra and Rowan have disappeared. Endura is gone. It seems like nothing stands between Scythe Goddard and absolute dominion over the world scythedom. With the silence of the Thunderhead and the reverberations of the Great Resonance still shaking the earth to its core, the question remains: Is there anyone left who can stop him? The answer lies in the Tone, the Toll, and the Thunder.

Discussion Questions

1. In Part One: The Lost Island & The Drowned City, readers learn that Scythe Goddard is not only alive, but has been made High Blade of MidMerica. Based on what you know about him, why is this news incredibly problematic? Think about his previous actions. What do you predict will be the biggest challenges to having him as the Scythe leader?

2. In what ways is the Thunderhead’s chosen silence a life-changing event? Can you think of ways the Thunderhead feels its silence will make the world better? Are there ways in which you believe it might make things worse?

3. A former Nimbus agent tells Greyson, “‘We’ve scoured the backbrain, and we’ve only been able to find a single person who isn’t unsavory . . . you.’” Why does learning that Greyson still has the ability to speak to the Thunderhead both frustrate and perplex those who can no longer hear his voice for themselves? Why do you think the Thunderhead has chosen Greyson to be the sole receiver of his messages?

4. Nimbus agents tell Greyson, “‘You are a miracle, Greyson. A miracle. Do you know that?’” Greyson replies, “‘That’s what the Tonists say.’” In your opinion, why do the Tonists believe this to be true? What do you think their intentions are? How does Greyson benefit from his alliance with the Tonists?

5. For the Thunderhead, its awareness comes with a mission, as it sees itself as the servant and protector of humanity. It thinks, “But rarely was the right thing the easy thing.” Do you agree with that statement? Is doing the right thing typically difficult? Give an example of your own experiences in your answer. How do you personally navigate being in such a position?

6. The Thunderhead sends nimbus agents like Loriana Barchok an email stating, “I have decided to dissolve the Authority Interface in its entirety. Effective immediately, it shall cease to exist as a managerial entity, and therefore you are released from service.” In what ways does losing their jobs impact the agents featured in The Toll? Does their separation from that job benefit them in any way? How did they feel about serving the Thunderhead?

7. Consider the idea of a Great Resonance. What purpose does this ideology serve? In what ways does Greyson play an essential role in the larger context for the Tonist faith? How are the Tonists viewed by the rest of society? Do all Tonists have the same goals or beliefs, and the same methods for reaching or executing them? How do you see Tonists using their faith to impact others?

8. After being kidnapped by Nimbus agents and rescued by Tonists, Greyson states, “‘I should go public. Let the world know—but do it on my terms.’” Why do you think Greyson decides to be open about his connection with the Thunderhead? What do you think of his plan? What are the benefits or drawbacks of making such a decision? Explain your answers. What would you do if you were Greyson?

9. Reflect on the global scythe territories’ reactions to the announcement and practice of High Blade Goddard’s removal of MidMerica’s gleaning quotas. Why does having these quotas to regulate and track the number of deaths matter to the other regions? In what ways does Goddard’s disregard for Scythe traditions impact them? Do you think they have a responsibility to interfere? What are their motivations for either capitulating or actively pushing back against Goddard’s leadership?

10. What is Goddard’s true intention behind removing the quota? How does this personal goal challenge his public reasoning for this maneuver? What does this tell you about Goddard and how he uses power?

11. Though Faraday and Munira are grateful for the protection of the island where they land after being shot down, how does this experience of isolation and solitude impact them? How does it affect their relationship?

12. Readers learn that Jeri is from Madagascar, where children are raised genderless and not encouraged to potentially choose a gender until reaching adulthood. Can you think of ways in which this approach benefits individuals? Are there any drawbacks? Consider Jeri’s overall role in the novel: What do you think are the most significant ways Jeri impacts the outcome of the story?

13. After Loriana’s ship is attacked, all safety pods have been filled, and she manages to save the director, Loriana decides to put her attention into saving herself by swimming to shore. What does this choice and her determination to either make it to shore or drown indicate about her character? Think about the way she describes her former self, and what you’ve observed in the novel. What are some of the ways in which Loriana changes for the better? In what ways does she prove herself to be a skillful leader? Why do you think she rises to the occasion?

14. Upon her revival, Scythe Possuelo tells Citra, “‘You were found sealed in the Vault of Relics and Futures in the arms of the young man who murdered the Grandslayers and thousands of others. The monster who sank Endura.’” How does learning Rowan has been falsely accused and blamed for this tragedy impact Citra? In what other important ways has the world changed over the three years Citra spent at the bottom of the ocean? Can you think of ways this experience might shape her actions moving forward?

15. Scythe Faraday tells Munira, “‘The world was no longer supposed to change, Munira. It was a well-oiled machine in sublime perpetual motion.’” Considering what you know about their society, what are the ways in which such a world is problematic? What kinds of issues arise from that kind of temperament? What role does human nature play in the outcome?

16. Consider the ways in which the Thunderhead attempts to protect Greyson. Why do you think it doesn’t directly warn Greyson about imminent danger? How might always having a voice in your head giving instructions affect the way you view and experience the world? How might it affect your relationships with others, or even with yourself?

17. In his anger and disbelief after learning that Rowan has been freed, Goddard states to the gathered stadium crowd, “‘You! All of you who came here today nurturing a thirst for blood . . . No, Scythe Lucifer is not here today, but YOU, who were so eager to witness the spectacle, are now the object of my eye.’” In what ways does this mass gleaning ordered by Goddard ultimately change his relationships with Scythe Rand and Scythe Constantine? How might it have long-term effects on the scythedom and on society as a whole?

18. The Thunderhead tells Greyson, “‘Grief, grief, and more grief! I wish I could have blinded my eyes to it.’” Though the Thunderhead is unable to react to upsetting events, Greyson assures the Thunderhead that he will act for him. Why do you think the Thunderhead instructs him to “continue doing what [he’s] been doing”? What does the Thunderhead believe Greyson can accomplish?

19. Tensions rise due to the battle for control led by dictators, prophets, and newfound religious fervor. In a world that’s conquered death, do you believe humanity will finally be torn asunder by the immortal beings it created? How has technology aided or hindered progress?

20. Why do you think the Thunderhead kept his end plans a secret for so long? Why is space travel such a game changer in this world? Why might scythes have felt threatened by this type of progress? Can you think of any instances throughout the series where scythes attempted to prevent space-related research and discovery?

21. Consider the dramatic conclusion of The Toll and the Arc of a Scythe trilogy. In your opinion, what did you like best about the story’s conclusion? Are there any points you would have changed; if so, which ones? Explain your answers.

Extension Activities

1. In The Toll, readers witness a world turned upside down after the Thunderhead chooses to stop speaking and guiding individuals. Do you think this decision is ultimately one that has mankind’s best interests in mind? Using textual evidence from The Toll to support your ideas, write a brief letter to the Thunderhead making a case for your position.

2. Throughout The Toll, the scythedom of Texas is painted as an area of rebellious and independent thinkers, disregarding consequences or judgments from outsiders or the other scythedoms. Think about perceptions of the current state of Texas, and how they’ve proudly claimed to be “like a whole other country.” Using library and Internet resources, research the history of Texas’s independent spirit, looking for other ways that Texas and its residents prove they do things their own way. Are there any other terms or names from the series that remind you of a real-life counterpart?

3. In your own life, you likely regularly retell your stories using a variety of social media tools. In a small group, select a favorite scene from The Toll, Thunderhead, or Scythe. Using a social media tool (Snapchat, Twitter, or Facebook, for example), retell the selected scene. Alternatively, you can set up a “Fauxbook” profile for a specific character from the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, and create a number of posts as that character during a pivotal scene.

4. In the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, the Thunderhead states, “To deny humanity the lesson of consequences would be a mistake. And I do not make mistakes.” Do you agree with this sentiment? In your opinion, why might living with the consequences of choices be critical for individuals as well as society as a whole? In a journal entry, reflect on a personal moment in your past where the consequences of your choices proved to be an important lesson to you.

5. Vigilante justice is popular in film, TV, and books. Compare Rowan’s behavior to that of a vigilante character from a different type of medium; consider graphic novels, comics, movies, TV shows, or games. Explore ways in which these characters are similar and how they are different. What is the reception to these vigilante characters? Is one accepted more than the other? Do you think there’s a stigma attached to vigilante justice?

6. During a debate, Cirrus tells Astrid, “‘For human beings, a balance between altruism and self-care is called for.’” Do you agree or disagree with this idea? List examples from the book or your own life to explain your position. Then work with your classmates to stage a debate to further discuss this statement.

7. As the final novel in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, The Toll leaves readers with hope and a preview of what may come next for these characters. Using The Toll’s closing as a springboard, create an original short story extension that could serve as a bonus chapter or a “where are they now” feature.

Lexile ® 850L

The Lexile reading level has been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics

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. 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 3, 2020)
  • Length: 640 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781481497077
  • Grades: 7 and up
  • Ages: 12 - 99
  • Lexile ® 850L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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