The Toll: Arc of a Scythe, Book 3

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
The Toll:  Arc of a Scythe, Book 3 Book Poster Image
Violent sci-fi thriller finale plays masterful endgame.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 8 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The Toll is primarily a sci-fi thriller, but it offers plenty of opportunities for discussing free will, ethics, and the possibility of an afterlife. If dying is rare, how does the definition of living change?

Positive Messages

Knowing that our bodily existence is finite gives meaning to our lives. Kindness and empathy are more important than ambition and success. Doing the right thing is often not easy.

Positive Role Models & Representations

After the destruction of the island of Endura, various survivors scheme to stay alive as Overblade Goddard kills loyal scythes left and right. Greyson Tolliver is the only person on the planet who can still hear the voice of Thunderhead, the nearly omniscient AI steering the course of humanity. Tolliver and his allies struggle to give humanity a second chance at transendence.


The main subject of The Toll is death, and violence is meted out constantly throughout the book, mostly by stabbing but with some variety. Many deaths are impermanent, and readers who've followed the saga this far should not be surprised at the bloodshed.


No one seems to have much time for or interest in romance. Greyson hosts overnight guests in his sleeping quarters, but there are no details of any nocturnal activities. One character is gender fluid and is attracted to women and men.


Swearing is infrequent in The Toll: a handful of "damn" and "hell," with one or two instances of "s--t" and "f--k."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this final volume in the trilogy started in the 2017 Michael J. Printz Honor Book Scythe, by Neal Shusterman, is set in a future where most of the human population is immortal but a few are chosen to die at the hands of mysterious officials known as "scythes." There are many scenes of violence -- mass murder, beatings and torture, and intimate killings -- which may upset younger, more sensitive readers. Strong language is limited to one or two uses each of "f--k," "s--t," "hell," and "damn." References to sex are very infrequent.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byChris L. April 17, 2020

A complex end to a thrilling series

This fantastic series developed in complexity and avoided many of the pitfalls of other dystopian sci-fi for younger readers.
Shusterman continues to build a co... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written bythequestioner February 13, 2020

Disappointing finale to a good trilogy

I loved Scythe. I enjoyed Thunderhead, although not as much as Scythe. The Toll however is a major step-down in quality. It drags on as you read it. There are s... Continue reading
Written byAnonymous April 9, 2021

Satisfying ending but not as interesting as the other 2

The ending for the book was interesting but it wasn't as intersting as the first 2 book; the violence in here is not that violent (as mean: not too grisly... Continue reading

What's the story?

Opening in the aftermath of the sinking on an entire island, THE TOLL finds in Greyson Tolliver in a unique position, able to converse with the god-like AI (artificial intelligence) known as Thunderhead when the rest of humanity is cut off from it. Having been captured by a cult-like religious group calling itself "the Tonists," he is reluctantly elevated as "The Toll," one of the two most powerful positions on the planet. Opposed to him is the megalomaniacal Goddard, who has his own agenda for humanity. Other characters from the earlier books take sides in the epic struggle, until the fate of humankind rests in one desperate gambit for freedom.

Is it any good?

Super-sized science fiction sagas can sometimes test the patience of readers, but this epically convoluted trilogy rewards readers who persevere until the breathtaking ending. In The Toll, favorite characters appear in new roles, and each chapter brings fresh complications. Author Neal Shusterman orchestrates the narrative's endgame with high levels of suspense and humor, bringing to a conclusion a saga whose captivating premise has been explored from every interesting angle. The Arc of a Scythe books will appeal to readers who relish moral conundrums but want plenty of action to accompany the mind-bending philosophy.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Toll deals with the subject of death. Would life have any meaning if there was no such thing as death?

  • In The Toll, humanity made aborted attempts to establish outposts on Mars and the Moon. Should humankind assume that there are reachable planets that offer a second chance at not destroying themselves? How might society change its mind about climate change, for example, if people could live for centuries?

  • Is it possible to become desensitized to violence? Do violent games or movies have addictive qualities?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love science fiction

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