Book #1 of Arc of a Scythe

About The Book

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.


Scythe 1 No Dimming of the Sun
The scythe arrived late on a cold November afternoon. Citra was at the dining room table, slaving over a particularly difficult algebra problem, shuffling variables, unable to solve for X or Y, when this new and far more pernicious variable entered her life’s equation.

Guests were frequent at the Terranovas’ apartment, so when the doorbell rang, there was no sense of foreboding—no dimming of the sun, no foreshadowing of the arrival of death at their door. Perhaps the universe should have deigned to provide such warnings, but scythes were no more supernatural than tax collectors in the grand scheme of things. They showed up, did their unpleasant business, and were gone.

Her mother answered the door. Citra didn’t see the visitor, as he was, at first, hidden from her view by the door when it opened. What she saw was how her mother stood there, suddenly immobile, as if her veins had solidified within her. As if, were she tipped over, she would fall to the floor and shatter.

“May I enter, Mrs. Terranova?”

The visitor’s tone of voice gave him away. Resonant and inevitable, like the dull toll of an iron bell, confident in the ability of its peal to reach all those who needed reaching. Citra knew before she even saw him that it was a scythe. My god! A scythe has come to our home!

“Yes, yes of course, come in.” Citra’s mother stepped aside to allow him entry—as if she were the visitor and not the other way around.

He stepped over the threshold, his soft slipper-like shoes making no sound on the parquet floor. His multilayered robe was smooth ivory linen, and although it reached so low as to dust the floor, there was not a spot of dirt on it anywhere. A scythe, Citra knew, could choose the color of his or her robe—every color except for black, for it was considered inappropriate for their job. 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.

Some scythe robes were bright, some more muted. They looked like the rich, flowing robes of Renaissance angels, both heavy yet lighter than air. The unique style of scythes’ robes, regardless of the fabric and color, made them easy to spot in public, which made them easy to avoid—if avoidance was what a person wanted. Just as many were drawn to them.

The color of the robe often said a lot about a scythe’s personality. This scythe’s ivory robe was pleasant, and far enough from true white not to assault the eye with its brightness. But none of this changed the fact of who and what he was.

He pulled off his hood to reveal neatly cut gray hair, a mournful face red-cheeked from the chilly day, and dark eyes that seemed themselves almost to be weapons. Citra stood. Not out of respect, but out of fear. Shock. She tried not to hyperventilate. She tried not to let her knees buckle beneath her. They were betraying her by wobbling, so she forced fortitude to her legs, tightening her muscles. Whatever the scythe’s purpose here, he would not see her crumble.

“You may close the door,” he said to Citra’s mother, who did so, although Citra could see how difficult it was for her. A scythe in the foyer could still turn around if the door was open. The moment that door was closed, he was truly, truly inside one’s home.

He looked around, spotting Citra immediately. He offered a smile. “Hello, Citra,” he said. The fact that he knew her name froze her just as solidly as his appearance had frozen her mother.

“Don’t be rude,” her mother said, too quickly. “Say hello to our guest.”

“Good day, Your Honor.”

“Hi,” said her younger brother, Ben, who had just come to his bedroom door, having heard the deep peal of the scythe’s voice. Ben was barely able to squeak out the one-word greeting. He looked to Citra and to their mother, thinking the same thing they were all thinking. Who has he come for? Will it be me? Or will I be left to suffer the loss?

“I smelled something inviting in the hallway,” the scythe said, breathing in the aroma. “Now I see I was right in thinking it came from this apartment.”

“Just baked ziti, Your Honor. Nothing special.” Until this moment, Citra had never known her mother to be so timid.

“That’s good,” said the scythe, “because I require nothing special.” ?Then he sat on the sofa and waited patiently for dinner.

Was it too much to believe that the man was here for a meal and nothing more? After all, scythes had to eat somewhere. Customarily, restaurants never charged them for food, but that didn’t mean a home-cooked meal was not more desirable. There were rumors of scythes who required their victims to prepare them a meal before being gleaned. Is that what was happening here?

Whatever his intentions, he kept them to himself, and they had no choice but to give him whatever he wanted. Will he spare a life here today if the food is to his taste, Citra wondered? 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.

Citra’s mother brought him something to drink at his request, and now labored to make sure tonight’s dinner was the finest she had ever served. Cooking was not her specialty. Usually she would return home from work just in time to throw something quick together for them. Tonight their lives might just rest on her questionable culinary skills. And their father? Would he be home in time, or would a gleaning in his family take place in his absence?

As terrified as Citra was, she did not want to leave the scythe alone with his own thoughts, so she went into the living room with him. Ben, who was clearly as fascinated as he was fearful, sat with her.

The man finally introduced himself as Honorable Scythe Faraday.

“I . . . uh . . . did a report on Faraday for school once,” Ben said, his voice cracking only once. “You picked a pretty cool scientist to name yourself after.”

Scythe Faraday smiled. “I like to think I chose an appropriate Patron Historic. Like many scientists, Michael Faraday was underappreciated in his life, yet our world would not be what it is without him.”

“I think I have you in my scythe card collection,” Ben went on. “I have almost all the MidMerican scythes—but you were younger in the picture.”

The man seemed perhaps sixty, and although his hair had gone gray, his goatee was still salt-and-pepper. It was rare for a person to let themselves reach such an age before resetting back to a more youthful self. Citra wondered how old he truly was. How long had he been charged with ending lives?

“Do you look your true age, or are you at the far end of time by choice?” Citra asked.

“Citra!” Her mother nearly dropped the casserole she had just taken out of the oven. “What a question to ask!”

“I like direct questions,” the scythe said. “They show an honesty of spirit, so I will give an honest answer. I admit to having turned the corner four times. My natural age is somewhere near one hundred eighty, although I forget the exact number. Of late I’ve chosen this venerable appearance because I find that those I glean take more comfort from it.” Then he laughed. “They think me wise.”

“Is that why you’re here?” Ben blurted “To glean one of us?”

Scythe Faraday offered an unreadable smile.

“I’m here for dinner.”

• • •

Citra’s father arrived just as dinner was about to be served. Her mom had apparently informed him of the situation, so he was much more emotionally prepared than the rest of them had been. As soon as he entered, he went straight over to Scythe Faraday to shake his hand, and pretended to be far more jovial and inviting than he truly must have been.

The meal was awkward—mostly silence punctuated by the occasional comment by the scythe. “You have a lovely home.” “What flavorful lemonade!” “This may be the best baked ziti in all of MidMerica!” Even though everything he said was complimentary, his voice registered like a seismic shock down everyone’s spine.

“I haven’t seen you in the neighborhood,” Citra’s father finally said.

“I don’t suppose you would have,” he answered. “I am not the public figure that some other scythes choose to be. Some scythes prefer the spotlight, but to truly do the job right, it requires a level of anonymity.”

“Right?” Citra bristled at the very idea. “There’s a right way to glean?”

“Well,” he answered, “there are certainly wrong ways,” and said nothing more about it. He just ate his ziti.

As the meal neared its close, he said, “Tell me about yourselves.” It wasn’t a question or a request. It could only be read as a demand. Citra wasn’t sure whether this was part of his little dance of death, or if he was genuinely interested. He knew their names before he entered the apartment, so he probably already knew all the things they could tell him. Then why ask?

“I work in historical research,” her father said.

“I’m a food synthesis engineer,” said her mother.

The scythe raised his eyebrows. “And yet you cooked this from scratch.”

She put down her fork. “All from synthesized ingredients.”

“Yes, but if we can synthesize anything,” he offered, “why do we still need food synthesis engineers?”

Citra could practically see the blood drain from her mother’s face. It was her father who rose to defend his wife’s existence. “There’s always room for improvement.”

“Yeah—and Dad’s work is important, too!” Ben said.

“What, historical research?” The scythe waved his fork dismissing the notion. “The past never changes—and from what I can see, neither does the future.”

While her parents and brother were perplexed and troubled by his comments, Citra understood the point he was making. The growth of civilization was complete. Everyone knew it. When it came to the human race, there was no more left to learn. Nothing about our own existence to decipher. Which meant that no one person was more important than any other. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, everyone was equally useless. That’s what he was saying, and it infuriated Citra, because on a certain level, she knew he was right.

Citra was well known for her temper. It often arrived before reason, and left only after the damage was done. Tonight would be no exception.

“Why are you doing this? If you’re here to glean one of us, just get it over with and stop torturing us!”

Her mother gasped, and her father pushed back his chair as if ready to get up and physically remove her from the room.

“Citra, what are you doing!” Now her mother’s voice was quivering. “Show respect!”

“No! He’s here, he’s going to do it, so let him do it. It’s not like he hasn’t decided; I’ve heard that scythes always make up their mind before they enter a home, isn’t that right?”

The scythe was unperturbed by her outburst. “Some do, some don’t,” he said gently. “We each have our own way of doing things.”

By now Ben was crying. Dad put his arm around him, but the boy was inconsolable.

“Yes, scythes must glean,” Faraday said, “but we also must eat, and sleep, and have simple conversation.”

Citra grabbed his empty plate away from him. “Well, the meal’s done, so you can leave.”

Then her father approached him. He fell to his knees. Her father was actually on his knees to this man! “Please, ?Your Honor, forgive her. I take full responsibility for her behavior.”

The scythe stood. “An apology isn’t necessary. It’s refreshing to be challenged. You have no idea how tedious it gets; the pandering, the obsequious flattery, the endless parade of sycophants. A slap in the face is bracing. It reminds me that I’m human.”

Then he went to the kitchen and grabbed the largest, sharpest knife he could find. He swished it back and forth, getting a feel for how it cut through the air.

Ben’s wails grew, and his father’s grip tightened on him. The scythe approached their mother. Citra was ready to hurl herself in front of her to block the blade, but instead of swinging the knife, the man held out his other hand.

“Kiss my ring.”

No one was expecting this, least of all Citra.

Citra’s mother stared at him, shaking her head, not willing to believe. “You’re . . . you’re granting me immunity?”

“For your kindness and the meal you served, I grant you one year immunity from gleaning. No scythe may touch you.”

But she hesitated. “Grant it to my children instead.”

Still the scythe held out his ring to her. It was a diamond the size of his knuckle with a dark core. It was the same ring all scythes wore.

“I am offering it to you, not them.”


“Jenny, just do it!” insisted their father.

And so she did. She knelt, kissed his ring, her DNA was read and was transmitted to the Scythedom’s immunity database. In an instant the world knew that Jenny Terranova was safe from gleaning for the next twelve months. The scythe looked to his ring, which now glowed faintly red, indicating that the person before him had immunity from gleaning. He grinned, satisfied.

And finally he told them the truth.

“I’m here to glean your neighbor, Bridget Chadwell,” Scythe Faraday informed them. “But she was not yet home. And I was hungry.”

He gently touched Ben on the head, as if delivering some sort of benediction. It seemed to calm him. Then the scythe moved to the door, the knife still in his hand, leaving no question as to the method of their neighbor’s gleaning. But before he left, he turned to Citra.

“You see through the facades of the world, Citra Terranova. You’d make a good scythe.”

Citra recoiled. “I’d never want to be one.”

“That,” he said, “is the first requirement.”

Then he left to kill their neighbor.

• • •

They didn’t speak of it that night. No one spoke of gleanings—as if speaking about it might bring it upon them. There were no sounds from next door. No screams, no pleading wails—or perhaps the Terranovas’ TV was turned up too loud to hear it. That was the first thing Citra’s father did once the scythe left—turn on the TV and blast it to drown out the gleaning on the other side of the wall. But it was unnecessary, because however the scythe accomplished his task, it was done quietly. Citra found herself straining to hear something—anything. Both she and Ben discovered in themselves a morbid curiosity that made them both secretly ashamed.

An hour later, Honorable Scythe Faraday returned. It was Citra who opened the door. His ivory robe held not a single splatter of blood. Perhaps he had a spare one. Perhaps he had used the neighbor’s washing machine after her gleaning. The knife was clean, too, and he handed it to Citra.

“We don’t want it,” Citra told him, feeling pretty sure she could speak for her parents on the matter. “We’ll never use it again.”

“But you must use it,” he insisted, “so that it might remind you.”

“Remind us of what?”

“That 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.” Then he gently put the knife in her hands. “We are all accomplices. You must share the responsibility.”

That may have been true, but after he was gone Citra still dropped the knife into the trash.

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.

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 latest 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 28, 2017)
  • Length: 464 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781442472433
  • Grades: 7 and up
  • Ages: 12 - 99
  • Lexile ® 830L
  • Fountas & Pinnell™ Z+

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Raves and Reviews

"Elegant and elegiac, brooding but imbued with gallows humor, Shusterman's dark tale thrusts realistic, likeable teens into a surreal situation and raises deep philosophic questions. A thoughtful and thrilling story of life, death, and meaning."

– Kirkus Reviews

"Shusterman is no stranger to pushing boundaries. Scythe owes an obvious debt to Unwind (2007) and its

sequels, and this succeeds as a sort of shadow companion to Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy: instead

of exploring the ways in which men are monsters, this deals in what happens to men when there are no

monsters. When our reach does not exceed our grasp, when comfort is more easily obtained than struggle,

when our essential humanity doesn’t burn out but becomes slowly irrelevant, what becomes of us?

Readers will find many things in these pages. Answers to such unsettling questions will not be among


– Maggie Reagan, Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

Awards and Honors

  • ALA Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book
  • CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children's Book Council)
  • Abraham Lincoln Book Award Master List (IL)
  • ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
  • Georgia Peach Book Award Master List
  • Young Hoosier Book Award Master List (IN)
  • Grand Canyon Reader Award Nominee (AZ)
  • Utah Beehive Award Master List
  • Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Award Nominee
  • Nutmeg Children's Book Award Nominee (CT)
  • Florida Teens Read Master List
  • Texas Lone Star Reading List
  • Rebecca Caudill Award Master List (IL)
  • PEN USA Literary Award Finalist
  • Gateway Readers Award Nominee (MO)
  • Golden Sower Award (NE)
  • Texas Tayshas Reading List
  • ALA/YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults - Top Ten
  • California Book Award Finalist
  • ALA/YALSA Teens' Top Ten List
  • Wisconsin State Reading Association's Reading List
  • Gateway Readers Award (Missouri Association of School Librarians)
  • Louisiana Teen Readers' Choice Title Master List
  • Green Mountain Book Award
  • Florida Teens Read Award
  • Oregon Reader's Choice Award Nominee
  • Bangkok Book Award Finalist
  • California Young Reader Medal finalist
  • Indiana Young Hoosier Book Award Winner

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