Book Review: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

“Death-Cast is calling with the warning of a lifetime- I’m going to die today.”

I know that I am late to this book. I have had it sitting on my shelf starting at me judgementally since release day, when I sent Husband to the YA section of my local Waterstones to pick up a copy because I was recovering from surgery. He thought I was winding him up. So many people told me it was going to hurt me, and I didn’t want to risk crying a stitch out, so I put off reading it until my son chose it for me to read in June “because it’s got an hourglass on it”.

review

From the opening sentence it had me hooked and hurting. I spent the first few pages trying to process how you deal with that information. Your phone rings with a distinctive ring tone that you know is someone calling to tell you you’re going to die that day. How do you pick up the phone? How do you not just fall apart right there at that moment? How do you tell your loved ones? How do you decide how to live out your last day? Adam Silvera has your answers covered as we follow Mateo and Rufus through their End Day.

Mateo receives the call first. It is harrowing to read. Death-Cast tell him he’s going to die, but they can’t tell him how or exactly when, just that it will be sometime that day. They encourage him to have a good End Day, tell him to fill out the form with his funeral preferences and details for his headstone, and move on to call the next person. Rufus takes his call less well. It interrupts him beating someone up. He’s less polite to the caller, angry that he’s getting the call. We get a glimpse into how hard it must be to be a Death-Cast caller, when the person breaking the news to Rufus says:

“An hour ago I got off the phone to a woman who cried over how she won’t be a mother any more after her four year old daughter dies today.”

Fucking hell. I felt that mother’s pain. She was just a line in a book, but contemplating what she must have gone through hurt my dark heart. How anyone could be a Death-Cast caller is beyond me.

The call gives people opportunities that people who lived before them didn’t have: they can say goodbye to their loves ones, attend their own funerals, do something special for the last time. They Both Die at the End also looks at some of the downsides to this knowledge. Characters in the story who have had the call don’t fight to escape when something bad happens to them, raising the question of whether that call made them give up.

Those who get the call are called “Deckers” and they are living out their “End Day”. Mateo isn’t sure what to do with his. His mum is already dead, his dad is in a coma, and he isn’t ready to tell his best friend. He spends time online on a forum where Deckers share their stories (the reference to a person trying to find a home for their dog before they died made me tear up). There’s also an app (of course there is) called Last Friend, where people can find other Deckers, or people who want to befriend someone on their End Day.

Rufus tries to have a funeral, a chance to spend time saying goodbyes to his foster family, his Plutos. They are interrupted when the police arrive, called by the guy he was beating up earlier. I’m not condoning Rufus’s behaviour at all, but calling the police on someone on their End Day seemed a bit harsh. It takes away Rufus’s chance to spend the day with those he cares most about, and this hurts him:

“I lived through my funeral, but I wish I was already dead.”

 He also finds himself on Last Friend.

That’s where Mateo and Rufus meet, where their story begins. Mateo says of the forums:

 “When someone puts their journey out there for you to watch, you pay attention – even if you know they’ll die at the end”

which felt like he was telling us, the reader, to pay attention to their story, to their journey. Their story is a heart-breaking one.

Mateo finds a way to say goodbye to his dad and Lydia, then they head out to find some experiences worth spending your last day on. They try a simulated experience for Deckers, but it didn’t feel real enough for them. They go in search of more meaningful ways to spend their last day. Some of the scenes are beautiful as well as haunting. Some are just harrowing, like when Mateo finds himself facing his own grave and headstone (because they are super-efficient at sorting these things when they know you’re going to die). Mateo voices exactly what I thought at this moment:

“No one should ever witness someone digging their grave.”

It raises again whether Death-Cast is an entirely good thing. Everything they do is tainted with the thought that it could be the last thing they do, or the thing that kills them. It adds meaning to everything that happens, but also meant I was frustrated when they were moving slowly thinking they were wasting time. Every time you start to get comfortable with the story, something awful happens to remind you that these boys are dying. I hoped over and over that these two would somehow defy the Death-Cast call. But, it’s not called They Both Die at the End for nothing.

The story is told in alternating chapters from Mateo and Rufus, with occasional flashes into other people’s stories; some also dying today, loved ones and strangers they encounter who impact on their story. We hear from a woman convinced her call was a prank, as well as from friends of Rufus’s.

“Death-Cast did not call Tahoe Hayes because he isn’t dying today, but he’ll never forget what it was like seeing his best friend receive the alert.”

It seems that Death-Cast has a significant impact on everyone around the Decker and possibly makes their grief worse because they have the experience of seeing loved ones taking the call. It also adds pressure for the Decker to provide some kind of reassurance.

“There are questions I cannot answer. I cannot tell you how you will survive without me. I cannot tell you how to mourn me.”

No one should have to do that. This was one of the things that haunted me the most.

One of the things I loved most, was Rufus marking the day with pictures on Instagram, and there’s an actual real Instagram account matching his username too, just in case your feelings aren’t destroyed enough. Rufus starts to post pictures in colour. Mateo persuades him to switch from his black and white theme and post his End Day in colour: “my End Day will have its own unfiltered contrast”.

Mateo and Rufus both give each other something in their End Day: they make each other try different things and really experience that day. Their ending utterly destroyed me. When they confront their feelings for each other and talk in a way they might not if they didn’t know they were dying, it’s because

“People waste time and wait for the right moment and we don’t have that luxury”

If anything ever gave me the kick I needed to make more time for the things and the people I love, this book is it. This book will make you want to live your life differently. It will break your heart, but you will love it for doing so.

 

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