Review: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
Genre: YA speculative fiction/contemporary (feels more like the latter than a SFF story)
Publisher: Harper Teen
Release Date: September 5, 2017 (see what they did there??)
On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.
So this book snuck up on me a little. I’d loved Adam Silvera’s previous two books, but while More Happy Than Not floored me with its plot twists and construction and History is All You Left Me grabbed my interest with its topics on breakups and OCD, I wasn’t as interested in the concept of They Both Die at the End, so I was a little nervous. I’d seen a couple of great reviews and a couple of mixed ones. But then I got to the end, and I’m having troubling coming up with much negative to say about it.
While They Both Die at the End clearly has some sci-fi elements, it reads more like a contemporary, interesting in exploring the “what-if” situation with a realistic story. And yet, the impact Death-Cast has had on the world isn’t ignored–there’s a whole industry out there trying to make money by making the lives of the soon-to-die (called “Deckers”) better, and books, TV, and other stories now have Death-Cast as a plot point. A lot of it serves as commentary for how death is handled on social media, which is something I’ve had to think about recently. Most chapters are told from either Rufus’s or Mateo’s POVs (which are very distinctive), but there are glimpses of other people affected, most of which cross paths somewhere with Rufus and Mateo. Even though it all takes place in a day, there’s so much ground covered that it doesn’t feel rushed or stretched.
We all like to proclaim how emotional Adam Silvera’s books make us, but I’m not sure we give him enough credit for his plotting. More Happy Than Not has a plot twist that reveals so many little details planted beforehand, and They Both Die at the End reminded me of that careful structure. There are a lot of details–especially from the other POV chapters as I mentioned earlier–that fit together like pieces of a puzzle. And how they actually die isn’t quite what you expect.
Even though, yes, they both die at the end, the knowledge of the fact and how it is handled prevents this from being a “bury your gays” scenario. Like History is All You Left Me is about break-ups and grief with a m/m couple, this is a high-concept story about family and friendship and love that also happens to feature two boys. It’s not a “what is it like to be a guy or bi guy?” story. So, as I’m sure you’ve expected, there is a bit of a romance–but it’s a slow-burn, and even though this takes place over just one day, there’s friendship first. Lots of talking about deep, philosophical issues (I mean, what else would you do when your impending death is certain and foretold?) and their lives. Mateo and Rufus are very different characters, but they have plenty of heart and love for their family and friends. It’s cute and tender and pure.
Another thing I appreciated: Mateo likes music and has several songs that he has attachments to, and most of them were the kind of music I listen to, as well, so I had a deeper understanding of their relevancy, even though important lyrics are included. In particular: “One Song Glory” from Rent (regret and last wishes when death is close), “American Pie” (eight-minute epic about an untimely death, anti-60s sentiment aside), and “You’re Song” by Elton John (such a unique choice for a contemporary for its love and friendship song). I was geeking out a bit, I admit.