By: Adam Silvera
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—to live a lifetime in a single day.
Kody- This review is for you since this was the first book you pitched and told me that I absolutely had to read. We’ve been friends for years, so I took your recommendation very seriously.
Even if Silvera hadn’t come right out and said the point of his novel in the acknowledgments, the message of They Both Die at the End is apparent from the story. It’s to live, to focus on the time we have instead of the final destination we all eventually reach. Some people are lucky to live long, full lives that find them passing in their sleep at a ripe old age. Many other people are not so lucky. We don’t have a Death-Cast to tell us that it’s our final day and that we should make the most of it. We have to do the much harder thing and live every day like it was our last. Knowing we will eventually die is not a reason to obsess about death so much as it is to appreciate the world and the time we have. Take the risks and chances you want to today so that when you are dying, you can go without any regrets. That’s easier said than done, but I appreciate the overt reminder.
The aspect of the story I like the most is the philosophical question of “If you could know when you were going to die, would you take the opportunity to find out.” Silvera answered very firmly that “HELL YEAH” he would want to know. He believes there’s so much good that can come out of being able to say your final good-byes and maybe mend some relationships before you go. I, personally, would not take that opportunity.
For me, one of the fundamental parts of the human experience is the understanding that we will die one day but getting to live feeling like we are immortal. I wake up every day knowing that I’m one day closer to death knocking at my door, but I get to enjoy the blissful ignorance of not believing it’s today. At least not if I have anything to say about it. Yes, it’s an optimistic viewpoint because, as we can see in They Both Die at the End, we don’t always have control of the world around us or the consequences we suffer because of others. But I fear that an understanding and knowing of when I would die would rob me of some of the joy in my life. It would make the intangible tangible. I would be jaded and angry that others would get more time than me and that’s something we do see manifested in the story. Silvera even goes so far as to show that unstable people may choose to cause bodily harm or death to others because they know they have nothing to lose. They’re going to die anyway. That’s not the world I want to live in. There is a countdown clock for all of us, but I’m glad that mine is invisible so that I can’t obsess about it.
While I know for certain that this novel is firmly in the YA category, I struggle to identify exactly which genre it would fall into. Originally, I may have put this book into more of a contemporary category because it takes place in modern-day or general speculative fiction because it inquires about what life would be like if we could know when we would die. However, as I was reading the novel, there is a not-at-all-subtle knock-off Harry Potter series that is identical in every way except the name. It was at that moment that I realized that this story likely takes place in an alternate universe outside of our own. It’s not really saying that WE in our timeline are going to have Death-Cast but rather that somewhere out there in another reality, it already exists. This realization makes me want to put They Both Die at the End into light science fiction. I feel both okay and not great about this because I’m a huge hard science fiction fan, so it almost seems like a betrayal to call this sci-fi. But I recognize that not every book written can fall neatly into a particular category so that’s what I’m going with.
The main detractor for me throughout the novel is the occasional use of telling instead of showing. It’s supposed to be an emotional narrative about two teen boys dying before their time, and we are meant to watch as they share their experiences and lives together in their final day. However, there are several moments where it will flip to Mateo or Rufus and they will mention how the other one told them a story from their childhood. We don’t actually get to experience the story as it’s told but rather get more of a disheartened recap with no soul. I was not a fan of that choice on Silvera’s part because we are supposed to be savoring every moment of their lives as much as they are. We are the reader along for the ride, but sometimes the emotional thread got lost for me because I wouldn’t care about what the characters were saying or feeling at that moment. They only got to know each other for one day, so there’s a narrative challenge in the premise of the story let alone actually building a relationship that’s meaningful. I believe in execution that Silvera did a great job, but it definitely wasn’t perfect. The novel was hard-hitting in some moments and cheesy in others which are par for the course when it comes to YA. To me, it’s never perfect.
I wonder if my overall rating and experience with the story would have been better if I could have read it in one day. After all, the characters only have one day and maybe it would have been more impactful. But I was busy and didn’t have the time to do that, so we will never know.
Overall rating: 4