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They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera is the tale of two boys finding friendship, adventure, and love on their last day on Earth. Set in an alternate universe of modern-day New York City, it starts with both boys – Mateo and Rufus – receiving the calls that they’ve been Death-Cast – that is, that they have less than 24 hours to live. They then sign up for the Last Friend app, a smartphone app that lets Deckers – those about to die – connect with new friends as to not spend their last day alone.
The tone of the novel is melancholic with a hint of whimsy – these characters are sad that they’re going to die, but they decide to take this day to let themselves be happy. Mateo, who’s afraid of the world, needs Rufus to help him get the push he needs in order to leave his apartment, and Rufus, who’s trapped in a world of hurt after the death of his family and the end of his relationship with his girlfriend, needs to focus his energy on someone.
Perhaps one of the more important non-story aspects of this book is that it’s written by Adam Silvera, a gay man, and the titular characters are gay and bisexual. This gives #ownvoices representation in a beautifully-written book about finding love to make life bearable, even if it’s the very end. They are also both POC – Mateo is Puerto Rican, and Rufus is Cuban-American.
I love some of the more “mystical” elements of the book, especially because they feel realistic with technology’s progression recently. For example, one of the main attractions for Deckers is the World Travel Arena, a huge building that allows people to “travel the world” in a few hours. It seems like something that could be real, yet there’s something magical about how Silvera crafts this place that makes it reminiscent of a secret land in the back of a wardrobe.
One aspect I wasn’t expecting was the different points of view. We not only saw Mateo and Rufus’s reactions to being Death-Cast, but also the perspectives of other citizens of New York within the same time frame, a few of which had also been Death-Cast, and others who had not. That way, we get to see how others might react to the ever-present awareness that comes with knowing when they’re going to die.
They Both Die at the End is sad enough to have made me cry (okay, let’s be honest – most books make me cry), but happy enough to give me that feeling of hope that comes with seeing people do the things they most want to do.
Spoiler Alert: they both die at the end. I was quite upset at this, which is completely unreasonable, as I knew they were going to die. It packed just enough of an emotional punch that I was sobbing whilst explaining the ending to my non-reader husband.