(Goodreads summary here.)
I read my first Adam Silvera book back in February of this year (History Is All You Left Me), and I knew then that Silvera would always break my heart and I would be (mostly) okay with it. They Both Die at the End definitely met that standard.
I wasn’t sure how I would feel going into this book. For starters, the title obviously gives the ending away, and I wasn’t sure for a while how I felt about that. I like being surprised by the events of a novel, and if the title spoils the ending, where’s the fun? I am happy to report I was totally wrong. The fact that I knew both Mateo and Rufus wouldn’t make it beyond the book just kept me on my toes. I kept waiting for it to happen, even when there were still 200 pages left in the book. It was terrifying. I kept wondering when and how and who and why, and those are the kinds of questions that will always keep me reading.
I absolutely adored the differing voices in this book. Something Silvera manages to get right in every book I’ve read by him is how real the characters sound. A lot of authors make their teenage characters sound like adults, or sometimes even more stiff and uptight than adults. While I do enjoy books with that kind of voice, it’s really refreshing to have characters who very decidedly don’t sound like that. It always takes a bit of adjustment on my part, since it is unusual for me, but once I get there, I love it. This was one of those cases. I really think there’s a difference between doing this just because you can and doing it for a good reason (i.e., not just to make a character seem less educated). This is something Silvera did very well. Yes, it helped to distinguish Mateo and Rufus’s points of view, but it also helped to emphasize just how young they were, which adds to the whole tragedy.
Additionally, beyond the different styles of voice and speech, each character’s point of view is truly unique. They sound different and they look at the world in different ways. I think some authors really struggle to differentiate their writing style enough to make different characters actually sound like different characters (for good reason), but that’s not something I found with Silvera. Even though the writing is very clearly Silvera’s, Mateo and Rufus are wholly different characters. I think it’s really hard to do well, but it was definitely not an issue here. (The only other book that comes to mind of another great example of this is The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis, which is something I talk about in my review.)
At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of the side stories that are incorporated alongside Mateo and Rufus’s stories (mostly because I just wanted more of them), but I actually ended up enjoying them by the end. It ended up being really interesting to see how they were all connected to each other and kept me guessing about who was going to affect who and why. It also helped to remind me that people don’t live in a vacuum; our actions have impacts on others, whether we like it or not. Silvera seems to want the reader to understand that our lives aren’t – and shouldn’t – be lived singularly. And sometimes we don’t know the full effect they will have on us, even just strangers passing on the street. Each person has their own life we know nothing about. Maybe their lives are connected to ours, maybe they’re not. There’s just no way of knowing, and I like that idea in general and think it’s a good thing to remember.
Finally, I really loved how the book raises questions of determinism and agency without really answering them. I was really interested at the very beginning about the whole Death Cast thing and if it just made people act a certain way to think/know they were going to die that day. And I kept waiting for an answer I didn’t get, but I think it definitely works out better that way. You’re left to decide for yourself if the Death Cast call becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, which makes the book all the more intense and philosophical. Do your actions differ because you know, which further endangers you? Or is Death Cast really just that good at getting it’s information right? It also raises a lot of questions about how you would personally respond to that kind of information, which I think is important to consider in a very general sense: are you living your life the way you really want to? Sometimes the answer is no, for reasons we can’t control, but it definitely makes for good reflections on your life as a whole. (I have decided I would 100% take after Mateo and have to be forced out of the house if I was told I was going to die today.)
The biggest thing I struggled with while reading this was my suspension of belief. I know that this is supposed to be a near-future/alternate reality situation, but for some reason, I just couldn’t come to terms with the idea of a company somehow knowing (or not knowing, depending on how you read the self-fulfilling prophecy question) when every person was going to die. Call it anti-capitalist paranoia, but I just really don’t like the idea. (Does that say a lot about me and my fear of death?) I realize that there really was very little that Silvera could do to remedy that, since a lot of my questions are ones that he can’t answer without taking away from the philosophical aspects of the book, but it really just made getting into the plot a little tricky for me.
All in all, Silvera never fails to surprise me in how he can convey such deep and meaningful ideas in stories that don’t seem like they should be on the outside. Yes, they’re definitely real and raw and emotional, but they raise so many more questions about the nature of life and happiness that I’m always pleasantly surprised to see in YA. I didn’t know what to expect from They Both Die at the End other than, fake spoiler alert, both characters dying, but I got so much more than I bargained for and loved it.
What other YA books raise serious questions you’d like to see more of? Do you think it’s important to have such heavy topics discussed in YA lit? Are there limits to what you think can and can’t be talked about?