By Kalli Dahlberg
*SPOILERS AHEAD, OBVIOUSLY*
They Both Die at the End is a popular young adult novel written by Adam Silvera. Silvera is an up-and-coming YA author. They Both Die at the End is Silvera’s third and most popular book.
Silvera’s third novel focuses on two teenage boys, Mateo and Rufus, who receive calls from Death-Cast, a company that accurately predicts death. Rufus and Mateo suddenly have something in common: They both have less than 24 hours to live. Mateo and Rufus are strangers, but through an app called Last Friend they find each other to make the most of the rest of their lives.
Silvera uses an interesting concept rooted in tragedy that helped the book become a New York times bestseller. The Idea of Death Cast was compelling and the romance between two Latino men supplied more representation in a predominantly white and straight genre, especially since the book is written by a Gay Latino man.
The inevitability of Rufus and Mateo’s demise added emotional elements to the book that resonated with a lot of people (judging by its 4/5-star review on Goodreads). I expected a book that is so widely praised for its emotional end and depth to leave me reeling, so either I’m heartless or this book is not as good as everyone says it is.
Silvera’s writing choices do more harm than good. Random POV’s from other characters make the novel appear disorganized and remove focus from Rufus and Mateo. The whole point of the book is that Mateo and Rufus have a limited amount of time left, so why distract from it with other characters who serve little importance to the plot? The worldbuilding is also woefully underdeveloped. The backstory and motives of Death Cast are left up to the imagination of the reader, no one in the novel questions or explains how or why a mysterious corporation can correctly predict your death. The pacing of the book also leaves much to the imagination, Rufus and Mateo are perfectly likeable characters, but we simply don’t have enough time to get to know them, the books’ fast pace makes the emotional conclusion feel unearned. Rufus and Mateo’s love (and their deaths) are quick and leave you confused. Thanks to Silvera’s rush to kill them, both Mateo and Rufus die in very careless and lazy ways, making the reader question the whole point of the book.
Above all Silvera’s biggest mistake is relying too heavily on the emotional elements of the story, the main example of this is the book’s title, its attention grabbing and curiosity evoking, but it reveals the end, making it hard to form emotional attachments to characters that you know are going to die. Silvera’s writing relies on a non-existent emotional attachment to make the end sad and deep but reading the book you have time to prepare yourself for the tragic conclusion, the “plot twist” is spoiled the second you read the title. While Silvera attempts to kill off his characters in a shocking and unexpected way that will elicit emotion, the only emotion you feel is relief that it’s over.
However, it cannot be ignored that many people will see themselves represented in Silvera’s writing. Books written by people of color and or LGBTQ+ people are not common, the white and straight saviorism in YA novels is insidious. Silvera did something important with this book. However, for me, the negatives far outweigh the positives.