“No matter how we choose to live, we both die at the end.”
I don’t know how to write about this, or any of the previous Adam Silvera books. I just realised this as I have gotten over my reading slump but still can’t start on writing this post, and when I went to check what I wrote about his previous books… it turned out that I skipped them.
When More Happy Than Not was released, it was on my must-read list because it was queer YA speculative fiction, which is still SO VERY RARE. I never saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, nor will I ever see it (I don’t think I can take something that depressing), especially after reading More Happy Than Not. It was good, really good, but also made me cry buckets – at one point I had to put the book away for a day or so, because it triggered a panic attack. Then I read History Is All You Left Me, which is almost better, and even more depressing, especially in the wake of my sister’s death. And now, a book with a pretty cute cover saying They Both Die at the End.
I have to say, I find this to be Silvera’s most hopeful book so far. Yes, the characters die at the end (the titles of his books? All spoilers.) But before that? They lived.
Like More Happy Than Not, They Both Die at the End is slightly speculative – in this book, a company called Death-Cast exists. They know when everyone is going to die, and they call people up 24 hours before, to tell them that they are on their last day. This is so that people can say goodbyes and tie-up on any loose ends – which is technically a good thing, but seriously, what would you do if you got a call saying that you were going to die?
In this book, Rufus and Mateo start off as complete strangers with nothing in common, except for the fact that they both received a call from Death-Cast. Mateo lives alone (his dad is in a coma) and is scared of everything. Mostly, he is scared of dying. He lived most of his life indoors, avoiding even the slightest bit of risk. When he received his call, he decided that it was time to get out of the house and live. Rufus HAS been out and lived. When he received his call, he was in the middle of beating his ex-girlfriend’s current boyfriend to death (the boyfriend lives).
Rufus and Mateo end up meeting via an app that allows the dying to find and befriend one another. I love that this app exists in this world. Being more of a social SF than a sciency one, there are a lot of holes in the world-building (like how does something like Death-Cast exist?), Silvera follows through on that social aspect and shows us Mateo reading updates and posts of people writing about their own death days; of special discounts and promotions for those living their last days; of the inevitable “we’re dying, let’s have sex” messages people send; of him setting up an Instagram to record his own last day.
As they get to know each other better, both Rufus and Mateo are determined to help make their last day as good as they can make it, while ticking off items from their respective bucket lists. A lot of things happen – some exciting, some not so much – and they fall for each other. And then, finally, they die. Or one of them does – the other character doesn’t die on page, but you know that he would die. After all, they both die at the end.
Maybe because this book is more hopeful, because despite what happens in it it’s really about living, but They Both Die at the End didn’t have the same impact on me that More Happy Than Not or History Is All You Left Me did. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing – I like that this book is hopeful, and it’s just as well-written as the previous two books, and I’m not really in it for the angst.
I like that this book emphasises the importance of living life rather than dwelling on death, although I suppose I do question the characters’ definition of “living”. A perfect last day for me might be spending all day indoors surrounded by my favourite food, watching all my favourite feel-good movies (mainly You’ve Got Mail, Empire Records and Mimi wo Sumaseba on repeat) and rereading all my favourite books (Diana Wynne Jones!). It certainly wouldn’t involve skydiving, real or virtual. Also, now that I think of it, why does Mateo have to change in the story at all? Maybe he could learn not to be scared of things, sure, but other than that, there’s nothing wrong with being a serious sort of person, is there? (A serious question from a serious person, here.) I like the different points of views in between Mateo and Rufus’, showing the thoughts of people connected to them, or other people who were dying on the same day. I like that all these other thoughts, that seemed so random at first, ended up coming together towards the end.
The writing in this book felt stronger, too, and reminded me of Patrick Ness’ (slightly) more normal books, like The Rest of Us Just Live Here and Release. I’m comparing this to Patrick Ness! I guess I must love it 😀
I received an ARC from MPH Distribution Malaysia through work. Thank you, Shireen & Ains!