They Both Die at the End was the first of Adam Silvera’s books that I heard of, but it I read his older books first mostly because I thought this one would too sad. Now I have to kind of laugh at myself, because History is All You Left Me is so, so, so, so much more depressing (and, honestly, so is More Happy than Not). That’s not to say that this one doesn’t have the emotional impact of Silvera’s other books; however, for me, it is the least affecting.
Summary: What’s it about?
When Mateo gets the Death-Cast call telling him that he’ll die in the next twenty-four hours, he’s doing what he’s always doing: hiding out in his room, awkwardly avoiding the world. When Rufus gets the call, the same day, he’s doing something wildly out of character: beating the crap out of his ex-girlfriend’s terrible new boyfriend. Faced with only one day left before certain death, the two boys make the decision to focus on living, not dying.
Review: What’d I think?
As I said above, this is not my favorite of Silvera’s books. It’s still really good, but after the emotional destruction that was History is All You Left Me, They Both Die at the End is a piece of cake. Part of that is, of course, the fact that HiAYLM is about death and TBDatE is about life. Normally I would prefer the latter, but I got sucked more completely into the former.
Told in alternating POV primarily from Mateo and Rufus—but also various characters that they come in contact with over the course of their last day, including friends, enemies, passersby who are slated for death, and passersby who are not slated for death—the novel chronicles the effects the two boys have on each other after they meet through the app Last Friend. The contrast between the two is set up right off the bat: Mateo is introverted, anxious, and innocent while Rufus is an extroverted doer who doesn’t always think through his actions. They’re tied not just by the deathdates but also by their recent traumas. Rufus’ parents and sister died in front of him a few months ago, and Mateo’s father is in a coma.
While the two characters do work pretty well together, the contrast between them is not as stark as it first appears. Rufus is not really the bad boy he seems to be at the beginning, so while Mateo certainly grows from having met Rufus, the opposite is less true. The main idea behind both the novel and the relationship is the fact that, by being each other’s Last Friend, Mateo and Rufus help each other grow and really live. It’s true for Mateo, who learns to loosen up and do things without being constantly afraid and self-conscious about it. Rufus gets past a temporary funk, but Mateo’s contribution to him is much smaller than his contribution to Mateo… which is kind of odd considering that, at least in my opinion, Mateo is the more developed character. Rufus isn’t bad, but he is a bit bland compared to Silvera’s other characters, both in this book and in his others, who are all painfully and complexly human.
I am a little inclined to say that the friendship between Mateo and Rufus develops too quickly, since they become very close very fast, but I also feel like I can’t say that, because it makes a lot of sense for timelines to be accelerated in a situation like this.
I’ve read a lot of reviews that compliment the short chapters by the secondary and tertiary characters, and I agree completely. They expand the world, increase suspense exponentially, and add a lot of interesting contrast. The novel wouldn’t be bad without them, but they certainly take it up a level.
The main themes behind the novel about living and avoiding regret are really well done. It was particularly interesting to read this novel so shortly after Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin, which tackles the same concept with a few minor differences—in Silvera’s world, people are informed of their imminent death on the day it will occur, whereas in Rubin’s they know the date their whole life—but with a decidedly more comic take. It’s fascinating how differently people can think about the same thing. In any case, now I’m stuck wondering… what does it mean to live, and why does our behavior change in the face of death even though we know that we’re all mortal?
What’s the verdict?
Adam Silvera is an immensely powerful writer. They Both Die at the End may not be my favorite of his books, but it is still really, really good. It is a deeply emotional story about two boys learning to live right before they die, and the inevitability of their ends (yes, they do actually both die in the end) serves to make them more poignant when they come.
Writing: A Characters: B Plot: A- Themes: A Fun: A Final: A