Author: Adam Silvera
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
Publishing Date: 2017
Number of Pages: 368 pages
Genre: Romance, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet for one last great adventure – to live a lifetime in a single day.
The YOLO Effect
Over a year ago, I picked up this Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End out of sheer curiosity. I am not fan of young adult fiction (and I never made a secret of my distaste for the genre). However, I am always on the look out for “great” reads that would reverse this unfavorable perception I have of young adult fiction. It was with this intention that I bought the book. I was hoping that it would give me the same experience that Alire Saenz gave me with his Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.
But I guess I was asking for too much.
Mateo Torrez is the epitome of a nerd – a homebody, introverted and a recluse. Rufus Emeterio is Mateo’s polar opposite – outgoing, adventurous, and a ball of energy. They are just two normal teenagers living in anonymity amidst New York’s towering structures. But, as everyone knows, fate has a cruel way of making our lives meet at crossroads. That is what happened to Rufus and Mateo.
Mateo and Rufus received an unexpected message which turned their whole world inside out. The message: they are going to die before the day ends. Devastated, they decided to live the rest of their life to the fullest. Good thing there is the Last Friend app, a cellphone application that allows people in their situation to connect with each other or with other people who sympathizes with them. Through the app, Mateo and Rufus meet and set out for an adventure of a lifetime.
“You may be born into a family, but you walk into friendships. Some you’ll discover you should put behind you. Others are worth every risk.” ~ Adam Silvera, They Both Die at the End.
They Both Die at the End, the book’s title, is a dead giveaway as to what the story is all about. However, it is the events in between the starting point and the ending that makes the novel tick. With both characters basically orphaned, the novel is the story of loss and coping with loss. It is the story of two teenagers coping with the fast-changing world on their own.
Beyond grief and loss, the book’s major theme is homosexuality/bisexuality and one’s identity. These subjects were dealt with in an offhanded manner, nearly an afterthought. This worked to the book’s advantage as it made it able to focus on other topics without having to dwell deeper into the hullaballoo of such banal subject. This also made the story progress towards a direction that the reader might not expect.
You Only Live Once, or to today’s generation, simply YOLO. Four letters that stand for four heavy words, this is perhaps the book’s biggest message. Had it not been for the death notice, Mateo might still be stuck in the four corners of his own room. Had it not been for the death notice, Rufus might still be spending his time resenting the ugly reality that he has wrapped around him. The narrative is highly steeped in to this current generation’s mantra which dictate everyone’s every action.
The book’s intention is clear: we should live our lives to the fullest because we never know when it is our turn. Love as if you’ve never loved before. Laugh as if there is no tomorrow. Embrace the people you love and tell them that you love them. Take everything in strides. It is never too late nor is it too early to enjoy life. The premise isn’t entirely new but credits to Silvera didn’t push with the usual “find a way around it” theme that prevails when the subject of death is dealt when. Because when it is your time, there is no looking back, there is no going around it.
“I cannot tell you how you will survive without me. I cannot tell you how to mourn me. I cannot convince you to not feel guilty if you forget the anniversary of my death, or if you realize days or weeks or months have gone by without thinking about me. I just want you to live.” ~ Adam Silvera, They Both Die at the End
Truly, the idea of being informed of your impending death is freaky, out-of-this-world. Silvera removed the element of time and transports the readers to a period when technology is advanced. In an innovative way, Silvera highlighted our high dependency on cellphone and different applications. Even on the verge of death, our cellphones are one of the first things we resort to.
Silvera was innovative and creative in his exploration of death and loss. He has fresh ideas and perspective that it took some time before the plot’s flaws started appearing. And when they did, they started pouring. To start with, the writing was too standard, there was nothing about it that was awe inspiring or that sets it apart from books of the same genre.
The story tended to digress at some crucial points of the story. The perspectives of minor characters were interspersed within the narrative but barely did anything to make it move forward. They were inconsequential. But the biggest trickery of them all lies in the story’s ending. It was anticlimactic to say the least and undid all the progress, all the intricate backstories that Silvera inculcated into the narrative. It makes one think, had there been no calls, nothing would have happened, the story would have never happened. It all goes back to square one. In the end, the exercise felt futile.
“I just don’t think I should be the judge of who actually needs my help or not, like they should do a dance or sing me a song to prove they’re worthy. Asking for help when you need it should be enough.” ~ Adam Silvera, They Both Die at the End
Nevertheless, the story did have its brilliant spots. One can’t help but notice how it mirrored some elements of its fellow young adult fiction works, such as Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star. Both deals about two strangers whose paths crossed unexpectedly, and they end up changing each other’s lives. The novel is sprinkled with tender moments between Mateo and Rufus as well.
As innovative and as creative as Silvera was in this story, I can’t help but reduce it to a mere futile exercise. I still have to tip my hats off to Silvera for his approach as he carefully built a house of cards but was undid by one simple element – a wonderful ending. It had potential for a wonderful narrative. It sailed smoothly at the start. Yes, there were pointless side character point-of-views but they were tolerable at least. Everything simply unraveled in the end. I guess Silvera pressured himself too much to come up with a magical and meaningful ending that in the end, what he came up was cliché.
A tragic ending really, both for the story and the writing.
About the Author
(Photo by HarperCollins Publishers) Adam Silvera was born and raised in the Bronx, New York City.
Adam first worked in the publishing industry as a children’s bookseller. He then became a marketing assistant at a literary development company before ending up as a book reviewer of children’s and young adult novels.
His debut novel, More Happy Than Not (2015), received acclaim and multiple starred reviews. It also ranked as a New York Times bestseller. He followed his debut success with History is All You Left Me and They Both Die in the End. Both books were published in 2017. His fourth published work is What If It’s Us (2018), a collaboration with fellow young adult fiction writer Becky Albertalli. Silvera was selected as a Publishers Weekly Flying Start.
He is currently a full-time writer in New York City.