Thursday, April 19, 2018

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

That title, They Both Die at the End, just about sums up what happens and completely gives away the
ending, yet the what’s, how’s, maybe why’s make it worth finding out what led to the story ending that way.

Maybe you have heard the phrase “YOLO” (You only live once), or some variation of "it is the journey, not the destination that matters", or at least “live like it’s your last day”.  Silvera builds these right into the premise of this near-future story where there is a service called Death-Cast that knows when people’s last days are, and this service calls them on the final day to give them notice they will die within 24 hours.  These people, called Deckers, have time to say their goodbyes and live out their last day.  There is a whole business market and social media to cater to Deckers.  Some Deckers even hold a funeral they can attend.  This story follows two teens, Mateo and Rufus, who are just finishing high school and should be starting life in the real world.  They are both complete strangers who sign up on the Last Friend app to spend their final day with a friend.

Morbid themes aside, Silvera writes with sincerity and thoughtfulness.  Death is a difficult topic, and the premise could have gone in an absurd direction for satire. The writing is straightforward, and the characters’ voices feel honest.  There are ups and downs, screw-ups, humorous moments, and a sense that these people are real with realistic responses.  The characters are well-developed, and the chemistry feels genuine, so readers can relate and care for the characters.  Mateo and Rufus are completely different personalities who had different lives, so readers can enjoy how their friendship grows over the course of their last day.  The story shifts mainly between the two of them, but it also switches to the friends and other people whose lives are connected to their story, even if it is in a small way. 

Besides the science fiction-ish premise, the book reads like realistic fiction.  There are no big action scenes and thrills or fighting the system.  The adventures may not be movie-spectacular, but they are life-changing and personal moments of self-discovery.  Readers can wonder if finding out their last day was some kind of predestination or fate, where finding out they would die led to events happening the way they do, especially when readers see how Mateo and Rufus interact and impact other characters’ lives even in passing by.  Still somehow, it does not matter as much as the slice-of-life experience, made especially poignant with death overhanging, as Rufus and Mateo make peace with themselves and make their last day matter.

Look for They Both Die at the End in the VBPL Catalog.  Try Adam Silvera’s other teen works.  For more speculative fiction stories about people having a countdown to their death date, try Rachel Ward’s Numbers trilogy and Victoria Laurie’s When.

Review by Tracy V.

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