So attaching a spoiler alert feels redundant.
Bronx-native Adam Silvera has become a pre-eminent young adult fiction writer, with new release They Both Die at the End and his previous novel History is all You Left Me receiving universal acclaim. His work has the ability to leave you an emotional wreck: fast forward to me sobbing on my daily bus commute to work. In this speculative reality, Death-Cast is a company that calls people at midnight to tell them they will die at some point in the next 24 hours. No other details are given, leaving the client to choose whether or not they are brave enough to make their last day count or attempt to play it safe in the face of inevitable death.
Strangers Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio both receive this bad news, and amidst their own personal drama, decide they don’t want to face this day alone. Thankfully, there is a handy app for such an event – Last Friend – that hooks people up to hang out before they croak. Bittersweet, heart-breaking antics ensue. Meanwhile, the reader catches up with Death-Cast employees and related characters whose lives are changed and defined by death.
Exploring mortality, especially in a “one day left” fashion, is of course nothing ground-breaking. The nuances of They Both Die at the End, however (namely Death-Cast and its domino effect on modern society) feel almost Orwellian with a morbid spin for the social media generation. The novel challenges the reader to not only address their own attitudes to life and death, but also to how we deal with our baggage while we’re here, how we communicate and what we’re really afraid of.
Silvera navigates diversity seamlessly throughout the story – splitting the story between a closeted gay Puerto Rican and a bisexual Cuban – without feeling contrived or typical. The characters’ respective identities are explored with care and nuance, especially in regards to Mateo. There is no typical love story here, which feels fitting within this pseudo-dystopian novel in which the ending is in the title. Nor does it feel like tokenism, where diverse characters are forced into a narrative for the sake of inclusion. There are several characters peppered throughout the novel, which at once offers readers further insight to the effects of fascinating, terrifying Death-Cast and feels a little crowded. Silvera finds a good balance, but at times it feels like we are being taken away from the drama, kicking and screaming as events unfold.
Don’t let any notions of morbidity put you off picking this up: They Both Die at the End is impossible to put down and one of the most thoughtful and inspiring novel in recent years. Silvera is a superb talent to be celebrated and enjoyed.