This book hits hard. Tears were shed.
I don’t know what I was expecting from a book with this title. Well, I know what I was expecting because it’s there in black and white but I was hoping for something different. That, of course, is the book’s power.
They Both Die At The End takes place in an alternate reality which closely resembles our own except for one thing: on the day you die, Death Cast calls you and tells you. What you do with your last day, your End Day, is up to you. Death Cast ‘Heralds’ advise you to live life to the full.
Mateo is an eighteen-year old introvert living with his dad, who is unfortunately in a coma when Mateo gets the Death Cast call. Rufus is a seventeen-year old in foster care after his parents and sister died in a car accident. They connect through Last Friend, an app designed to put people in touch on their End Days. Rufus encourages Mateo to step outside his sheltered comfort zone, and Mateo helps Rufus digest his survivor’s guilt.
What really gets you in this book is the combination of intimacy between strangers – you know any moment could be their last, and you desperately hope it isn’t, because here is something new and beautiful they’ve both found – and the switching between perspectives, the interspersing of other characters’ days and the events and decisions that inevitably come together at the end.
It’s a really interesting concept. Death is a taboo subject even though it’s someone everyone will face. But it’s unknown and unexpected, so wouldn’t being forewarned making passing easier? I’m not so sure, given the weight that falls on the young shoulders in this book. Life is often thought of as a journey, with death a sort of respite at the end. Silvera does away with this romantic view and makes us face the reality of death, which is how unpredictable it is, how a life can be cut short, a reality faced by many. The journey the boys go on together should take a lifetime. By condensing it into a day, Silvera highlights that beauty and cruelty can go in hand in hand in this world.
The books is also a reflection on technology – thank God Death Cast doesn’t exist! Knowing when you’d die takes away from the humanity of life, giving technology another piece of power over us, another chip at our autonomy. And there’s the ‘Matrix vase’ question – if you got the call, could you ‘act natural’ and avoid death, or is acting naturally the thing that is going to cause your death? But there’s also the app, Last Friend, which connects people and brings them together, and in this case leads to something beautiful. Perhaps a reflection that tech has the power to do good and evil, and it’s up to us to manage that (not easy when you’re up against the tech giants – and it doesn’t seem like Death Cast has an opt-out).
In short, a book that will make you think, and make you cry. I’m actually tearing up just thinking about it. If today’s my End Day, I’m glad I got to read this book.