Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!
I only found out that Gleanings existed about a month ago, so naturally, it landed right on my Christmas list. More stories from one of the most creative and chilling YA dystopian worlds? SIGN ME UP. I got a copy for Christmas and immediately started reading, and while there were a few missteps, Gleanings was just the thing that I needed to get out of my reading slump.
Enjoy this week’s review!
Gleanings: Stories from the Arc of a Scythe – Neal Shusterman et. al. (anthology)
(summary from Goodreads):
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.
TW/CW: death (central theme), descriptions of injury, suicide, past descriptions of mass death, attempted killing of an animal
What better book to get me out of my reading slump than a collection of short stories set in one of my favorite dystopian worlds? I’m so glad that Neal Shusterman made the decision to delve even further into the fantastic, multilayered world of the Arc of a Scythe, and even though the anthology had a few weak points, overall, it was a highly enjoyable glimpse into the unexplored corners of a trilogy I adore.
(For this review, I’ll be doing a mini-review for each short story.)
“The First Swing” – Joelle Shusterman – ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Having a poem as the first installment in the collection was an interesting decision, but I would’ve liked it more if the poem…had something more to it. It was…alright? There didn’t seem to be a whole lot to it, but it was at least an interesting direction to go with.
“Formidable” – Neal Shusterman – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This was the first fantastic story in this collection—I loved seeing the early days of Scythe Curie before she became a fully-ordained Scythe, and I loved how Shusterman made her determined, fiery personality come off on every page. Reading stories like this make me wish that it wouldn’t take six coats of bleach to dye my darker hair silver.
“Never Work with Animals” – Neal Shusterman and Michael Payne – ⭐️⭐️
The weakest point in the whole anthology, without a doubt. It seriously baffled me that Shusterman had any part in this story—it was hokey, the writing was clunky as all get-out, and the story itself seemed to have no point. It was honestly just ridiculous, and I really don’t think it had any place in the anthology. Just…why? Why does it exist? However, I’d say this is just a fluke in a sea of mostly amazing stories, so the others successfully overshadow it. But still. Why.
“A Death of Many Colors” – Neal Shusterman – ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5
Not the best out of the collection, but I liked the stance that it took. I loved the framing of the mythos of Scythes against the backdrop of a futuristic misunderstanding of a Halloween party, as though Scythes had faded into the same category as any other Halloween monster many years in the future. Given how prominent the Scythes were in the original trilogy, it didn’t even cross my mind that there were some people that would think that Scythes were fake, so that was also an interesting angle to work from—especially from the perspective of teenagers trying to scare each other at a Halloween party.
“Unsavory Row” – Neal Shusterman – ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5
Again, not my favorite, but it was at least an interesting perspective to go with. Cheesy futuristic gang names aside (it’s the kind of cheese you kind of have to get used to with a Neal Shusterman dystopia—he sort of pulls it off), it gave us a glimpse into the criminal underworld of the Unsavories. Kila was the perfect example of an audience surrogate, and she worked excellently for the role.
“A Martian Minute” – Neal Shusterman – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
WOW. Without question, one of my absolute favorites of this collection! I’m already keen for a good villain origin story, but Shusterman executed the mind of a teenage Scythe Goddard so wonderfully. From the descriptions of Mars to young Goddard’s inner turmoils and how they translated to the very beginnings of megalomania, every part of this story shone. Also, I loved the foreshadowing with Xenocrates’ robes and The Pool Scene…yeeeeeeeeesh…
“The Mortal Canvas” – Neal Shusterman and David Yoon – ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5
What’s great about this anthology is that a lot of its stories use this world to talk about art, which, given the other themes of the books thus far, was an unexpected surprise. Although the writing in this story wasn’t quite as strong, I love the statements that it made about the connection between emotions and art, especially the rise of AI art. AI art may be a crowd-pleaser, but true art comes from stirring up complex emotions in the viewer—emotions that a human artist imbued into the canvas.
“Cirri” – Neal Shusterman – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5
An unexpectedly emotional story about the Thunderhead’s AI “children” shepherding pockets of the human race out into the universe in search of new worlds. It makes a beautiful statement about humankind as a whole, and through the eyes of a conflicted Cirrus, emphasizes that despite our faults, we are worth saving, and that all hope isn’t lost.
“Anastasia’s Shadow” – Neal Shusterman – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A fascinating look at the fate of Citra’s younger brother Ben, his failed training to be a Scythe, and the fraught romance he fosters during that time. It was interesting to see how Citra’s transition to Scythedom—and the trauma that it wrought—shaped Ben, and how it influenced his training and who he became now that he’s reached his sister’s age when she became a Scythe.
“The Persistence of Memory” – Neal Shusterman, Jarrod Shusterman, and Sofía Lapuente – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Another favorite in this collection, and another wonderful statement about art and spectacle. There were so many elements that made this story as charming as it was, but I especially loved the concept of Penélope, our resident goth, being so obsessed with death that she hangs around a Scythe, who becomes her surrogate uncle. There’s so much tenderness and wit in this story, and it all culminated in a theme that, now that I think about it, is very similar to the theme of Jordan Peele’s “Nope”—the lengths that we will go to achieve a spectacle. Without spoiling anything, they also resolve themselves in…shall we say, very similar ways.
“Meet Cute and Die” – Neal Shusterman – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This story easily could’ve fallen into the same fate as “Never Work with Animals,” but the dry gallows humor of this story made it so much more memorable and funny. As shrouded in death as this whole universe is, this story takes a lighter approach to it and makes an unexpected romance out of the absurdity of life itself.
“Perchance to Glean” – Neal Shusterman and Michelle Knowlden – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Another story that explores uncharted territory—the Antarctic settlement of Ross Shelf, and the system of collective dreaming that the citizens undergo. Not only was the worldbuilding fascinating, I loved the main twist of the dreams. Again, without spoiling anything, we see just how scarily powerful the Scythes are, if that wasn’t already obvious.
“A Dark Curtain Rises” – Neal Shusterman – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This works well as the last story of the collection—eerie and more than a little twisted, but still hopeful in its culmination. Combined with “Cirri,” this just makes me want to know more about this world post-Arc of a Scythe. (Mr. Shusterman PLEASE tell me you have some more plans for this universe PLEASE)
Averaged out, my ratings came out to just around 4 stars! A must-read for fans of the Arc of a Scythe, and a wonderful addition of vignettes in Neal Shusterman’s cleverly crafted, dystopian world.
Gleanings is technically #3.5 in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, as it contains spoilers for the original trilogy. It is preceded by Scythe, Thunderhead, and The Toll. Shusterman is also the author of the UnWind dystology (UnWind, UnWholly, UnSoulled, and UnDivided), the Skinjacker trilogy (Everlost, Everwild, and Everfound), and many other books for middle grade and YA readers.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!