A review of Adam Silvera’s “They Both Die at the End”
WARNING: Some spoilers follow…
The amalgamation of tragedy, homosexuality, and technology birthed a special novel incomparable to anything on store shelves. Author Adam Silvera pieced together a heart-wrenching fictitious tale of two young souls with nothing but death on their horizon. “They Both Die at the End” is heavily influenced by the old adage, live every day like it’s your last, but some other themes get more attention. The author argues that society puts too much value in social media by creating a world that is only a few years ahead of present day technology. Silvera invites the rising generation of teens to put social media aside to seek more precious human interactions. The only thing this story suffers from is its lack of depth and answers.
To give the plot of “They Both Die at the End” some context, it’s best to understand who Silvera is as a person. The millennial author is very in tune with social media. His twitter feed shows daily postings on the status of his latest book sales and signings. But even before the books, he engages with his over 26 thousand followers via tweets and short videos on a regular basis. He engages with nearly the same amount of followers on Instagram. It seems almost ironic that Silvera has such a large following on multiple social media platforms while also arguing against the use of said technology in his book. But there’s a catch to Silvera’s online presence. Even though he frequents social media, personal information about the author is rather scarce. Adamsilvera.com only lists his previous work experience and a vague description of where he grew up. Finding his age, or any personal details is virtually impossible. Silvera’s online presence, that’s devoid of any personal details, helps his book’s argument against social media misuse.
“They Both Die at the End” is Silvera’s third published book. All of his books share similar elements: Two male characters, a question of their sexuality, and unavoidable sadness at the end. Even without the title, passionate followers of Silvera’s work can already expect heartbreak from his latest novel. That said, the title doesn’t spoil the plot at all. If anything, the title is what intrigued me to pick the book up in the first place. The dark curiosity of how the two characters die is more of a reason to turn the page than the fact that they die. It’s advisable to research this book before buying as there are some hidden elements worth noting.
Without doing your own research, it’s possible to pick up “They Both Die at the End” while being completely unaware that it tells a homosexual story of love. The front and back of the book make no mention of sexuality, and neither does the summarizing leaflet on the first page. At first glance, it presents itself as a story about two male friends. I actually had to read amazon user reviews to find out that the two protagonists got more intimate in the story. Let me set the record straight: Yes, there are homosexual elements in this book, and they accompany the story in a touching way. The mentioning of bisexuality, or two males kissing, never feels forced. Rather, it was a refreshing and emotionally climactic moment when the two protagonists finally kissed. “I kiss the guy who brought me to life on the day we’re going to die,” (308, Silvera). The sexual relations never get graphic, and that’s appropriate for the novel’s audience. Just as the boys in the story are 18 and 19, I believe this book is intended for teens of the same age. Even though the cover doesn’t outwardly make mention of sexuality, the author blends this topic into the story in a way that homosexuals and heterosexuals can enjoy.
The book begins with a grim phone call to 18-year-old Mateo Torrez. A service called Death-Cast warns Mateo that he will die within the next 24 hours. The details of how he will die are left unknown. In the world that Mateo lives in, this phone call is unfortunate, but not abnormal. Death-Cast is a service that calls every reachable person at midnight on the day of their death. It’s considered a courtesy so the dyeing person has a chance to live up their last day. 17-year-old Rufus Emeterio receives the same call that night, and the two boys find each other on a phone app called Last Friend. The app is designed for people who are dying to spend their last day with a friend. With the foundation of the story out of the way, the rest of the book follows Mateo and Rufus as they go about their final day alive.
The surface theme of “They Both Die at the End” is to simply live every day like it’s your last. The book also suggests that going through life is more fun with someone by your side. The book goes about supporting this initial theme by characterizing its protagonist, Mateo, as an introverted shut-in who is afraid to leave his apartment. “I shake my head and slam the door shut. I’m not walking out into a world that will kill me before my time” (13, Silvera). It’s natural for Mateo to be afraid to go outside when he knows he’s going to die. But his character has a fear of living life, and it’s successfully balanced with Rufus’ character.
Rufus is the black sheep character of the novel. Rufus shares just as much time in the spotlight as Mateo does, since the book dedicates chapters to each character from their respective points of view. Rufus helps Mateo get out of his shell by exposing him to situations on his final day that he would’ve never had the courage to do alone. Even after surviving an explosion, the two boys get on Rufus’ bike and ride as fast as they can to a park. “We’re supposed to be living, period. We know how this ends for both of us, but I don’t wanna look back on any moment thinking we straight wasted it” (244, Silvera). Lines like this one prove how Rufus is the Yin to Mateo’s Yang. Finding each other helped both boys live their last day to the fullest. The hidden theme of the book took a little more digging.
Silvera was masterful in how he wove a cautionary tale into the story’s plot. Thanks to the world Silvera created, where slightly advanced technology warns people of their death, the reader is given a look at the destructive side of social media. As Rufus and Mateo live out their final day together, Rufus takes pictures of places he’s been and puts them on social media. Unfortunately for him, he has a vengeful stalker on his tail, and giving up his location on social media is very dangerous for the boys. “I take a photo of the sign for Clint’s Graveyard and upload it to Instagram in full color. “Got him,” Peck says, hopping off his bed. Clint’s Graveyard. He puts the loaded gun in his backpack,” (297-298, Silvera). The character, Rufus, should have taken advice from the author in how Silvera never puts personal details on social media. What Rufus did seems innocent on the surface, but it’s a very real problem that children with access to the internet face today. See this Huffington Post article on how many children share their personal info online. This near-death experience for Rufus and Mateo was a powerful life lesson on privacy to the reader.
Silvera has a potential movie script in his hands with “They Both Die at the End.” The author’s vivid description of fantastical technology made me yearn to see it on the big screen. The boys go to a place called “Make a Moment” that’s basically a more advanced “Make a Wish” foundation. “Make a Moment” is a place for dyeing people to experience virtual reality in a way that makes them feel like they’re touring the world in a couple hours. Reading this chapter in particular was very fun, and offered potential for a future movie set. Naturally, the author slipped in a point that backed up his argument against technology.
When Rufus and Mateo finished their “Make a Moment” tour of the world, they shared a cathartic moment. The two boys agreed that their experience in virtual reality was something they shouldn’t have done on their end day. “That sort of risk-free fun isn’t really fun at all. We should’ve read reviews before dropping bank on it,” (186, Silvera). In the character’s realization of technology, the author made a strong point that technological experiences can’t compare to real-life. This is a consistent argument in “They Both Die at the End” that supports the author’s theme of living life without social media influence.
Silvera blends the themes of technological misuse and living every day like it’s your last perfectly in one final quote from an unlikely character. Occasionally, the author would write a chapter that diverged from the main characters. This was usually to foreshadow an event, or provide context for secondary characters. One of these characters, a celebrity named Howie Maldonado, delivered the single most powerful line that tied together all of Silvera’s intentions in writing this book. “Affection from millions and intimacy from that one special person are completely different beasts” (313, Silvera). Howie’s final words suggested that he could have lived a happier life had he not been a celebrity with millions of followers. To him, the fans on social media couldn’t offer him the same feeling of affection that a special lover could have. Silvera’s inclusion of this fictitious celebrity point of view ingeniously undermined the importance of love being the key to a fulfilling life.
As briefly mentioned earlier, the book’s structure is unique and fitting. I was expecting a traditional numerical chapter format, but this old method of storytelling is thrown out the window. The author embraces telling the story through the two contrasting protagonists. The chapters are broken up by the character’s name and the time of day. If it’s Rufus’ turn to continue telling the story, the chapter will begin with his name and the time, to show a steady progression through roughly 24 hours. This constant shifting of perspective births two distinct voices. Rufus’ voice is distinguishable when compared to Mateo’s because of Rufus’ word choice. “I don’t go far from them, just closer to the entrance right as a priest is escorting a crying woman out the church” (30, Silvera). Rufus’ character is known to drop words and speak less proper English when compared to Mateo’s style of narration. This steady change in perspective helps to keep the reader engaged through the 368-page journey.
Up until this point, I’ve undoubtedly sounded like a fan of “They Both Die at the End.” On the contrary, there were unanswered elements in the plot that left me wanting more explanation. The author never gives explanation of who the real people behind Death-Cast really are. As previously mentioned, this is the company’s name that calls people in the middle of the night to tell people that they will die. “On behalf of Death-Cast, we are sorry to lose you. Live this day to the fullest,” (20, Silvera). These phone-calls from Death-Cast employees are the only glimpse the reader gets into the mysterious world of death. I imagine it would have been simple to add a short chapter from the perspective of some “higher-up” in Death-Cast. Secondary characters already get their own chapters to tie-up loose ends, and this is one huge loose end that needed to be tied.
In light of criticism, author Adam Silvera was mostly successful in writing a work of fiction with multiple universal themes and messages. The author’s own use of social media suggests that he supports the benefits of the Internet, yet he is clearly an advocate for maintaining privacy in the digital world. Silvera’s third book told an engaging story of two newfound friends who unfortunately didn’t live long enough to grow happy together. The title may be grim, but the message reigns supreme.
–written by: Nicholas Cordts
Silvera, Adam. They Both Die at the End. New York: HarperCollins, 2017. Print.