What would you do if you were informed that you had less than a day to live? This is a rhetorical question you may have heard at some point (or many) in your life, whether just posed as a discussion topic or perhaps something to truly face in the circumstances of life. In They Both Die at the End, Adam Silvera explores this question through the eyes of two teenage boys, in a world wherein a new system called “Death Cast” will at midnight predict everyone who will die within the next 24 hours, and alerts these individuals of their upcoming passing: the how, where, or why, however, is not known, just that it will occur at some point during the day before the clock once again strikes midnight. This whole situation and story could very well play out in a Final Destination, horror-trope way, and while the protagonists are obviously anxious about things happening, Silvera opts for a more internal, empathetic approach, in examining ideas of identity, possibilities, and how humanity may change in the face of new knowledge or circumstances.
The two main protagonists of this tale are Rufus and Mateo, two boys of 17 and 18 years of age (respectively) who each receive the call not long after midnight that this will be their last day to live. “We are sorry to lose you.” Both boys have friends in their lives, though family is sparse, and circumstances stop them from really getting a chance to spend their last day with those closest to them. And so, the boys’ paths cross when they both sign up on an app that will connect people with a “Last Friend” on the day that they are meant to die. Mateo and Rufus go about their day together, learning to connect with someone in what will likely be the last time ever. Along with these two protagonists, other characters in their lives or people they run into during the day have their points of view peppered into the story, which makes for a more rounded feeling to the whole thing: we get a better sense of what life and the world really feels like when this knowledge of a last day is given to people, and how interacting with others, knowing they won’t be around much longer can affect an individual.
There is a little bit of a checklist-type feel at times in the way the novel progresses, in that certain moments and things need to happen, like crossing off bits on a list of going here then there then here then there. But ultimately this doesn’t take away from the story: both Rufus and Mateo have regrets in different ways, but are ultimately compelling characters in the fact that they come across as the kind of kids who care about others. I was having this discussion with my friend lately, as I tried to watch Altered Carbon but just couldn’t do it because the protagonist was so flat and seemingly emotionless to me: I crave empathetic or interesting characters, ones who seem like they are really feeling something!
Ultimately, however, because of growing so fond of these characters, it was hard for me not to be sad at the end of this novel. It plays out just as you’d expect, the inevitability of fate coming together. But along the way, there is a subtle but great exploration here of a few different themes and the concept of life itself. Like, how would wars and history and even just general day-to-day risk-taking take shape knowing that today is or is not the day you die? How does it differ knowing you have longer vs. less time? Dow knowing inevitably lead someone down a self-fulfilling path that they wouldn’t have otherwise followed had they not known? There are so many questions and unknowns (such as in life right now) but makes for a different sort of context and idea about how to live your life and how society treats those around them.
In the end, They Both Die at the End is a simple story over the course of one day, of two souls coming together. It’s bittersweet, and maybe has some slightly clunky dialogue at times, but really made me think about a lot of things too, you know? Sombre but touching.