A life-affirming, heartbreaking novel
I think we all know what to expect from a book entitled They Both Die at the End; nevertheless, reading the actual novel was an anxious experience: my eyes were glued to every page, waiting for the ball to drop, for something terrifying to happen. You expect the book to be sad, to be heartbreaking and depressing. What you don’t expect is to smile, to laugh, and to fall in love – to feel such happiness, even amidst such pain. When a novel brings out these intense, warring emotions within you, that’s when you know you are reading an Adam Silvera novel.
They Both Die at the End, despite being a slightly morbid novel, is also an incredibly important one. The message the novel promotes is something that will relate to readers of all ages, but will undoubtedly stick with the young. It’s a book about living life to the fullest, which isn’t an especially unique sentiment – it’s rather something you would see on a cat poster or read in a self-help book – but Silvera’s distinctive twist on the adage is what makes his novel so powerful.
Imagine receiving a call at midnight telling you that you are going to die today. You are not told the specifics: you don’t know what time, how, or even who by – all you know is that today is your last day. Many of you will be angry and sad and hurt – and many more of us will feel guilty for a life unspent. We all have our insecurities and fears; Silvera’s novel tries to teach us to push past the fear and become the person we were always meant to be.
That being said, the novel doesn’t just tell you to go out there and put yourself in uncomfortable positions, it shows you through the power of friendship and family and making your own family, the ways in which we can live, not just survive.
Mateo is the character who is just trying to survive: he spends his days trapped in his apartment with his single father (who is currently in a coma), and only ventures out to see his best friend and her baby girl. Mateo is frightened of the outside world, although he’s not agoraphobic; more, he is afraid of putting himself out there for fear of being humiliated or rejected. It’s something we can all empathise with.
Rufus, on the other hand, is an angry boy, still reeling from the loss of his entire family months ago, and the recent breakup with his girlfriend. When we meet him, he is beating up his girlfriend’s new boyfriend when he gets the call. Unlike Mateo, Rufus is not scared: he wants to spend his Last Day with no fear, experiencing anything and everything he possibly can before he goes. I think we would all benefit from a Rufus in our lives.
Silvera’s writing, as always, is beautiful and haunting and makes you feel. Although I didn’t cry as much as I did when I read More Happy Than Not, They Both Die at the End will weigh on you for days. The plot is slow-paced, more concerned with character development, but the pieces gradually come together as the reader watches in horrid fascination, helpless to prevent what they know will come to fruition.
While reading They Both Die at the End, I had this lyric from Hamilton in my head: “Death doesn’t discriminate / Between the sinners / And the saints / It takes and it takes and it takes.” It’s an sorrowful statement, but it’s also remarkably true, and I think it’s also a statement that is at the heart of this novel: death takes and it’s unfair at times, but at the end of the day we can’t escape it, so must try to live instead.