BOOK REVIEW: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

My library hold of They Both Die at the End came through right after the author, Adam Silvera, had initiated a Twitter debate by scolding readers for pirating his book. I don’t condone piracy in general, but I disagree with the popular stance that books are luxury items, and I strongly believe that poor marginalised readers, especially kids and teens, should not be blamed for large-scale industry problems. (Some tweets about this issue.)

The solution to writers being systematically undervalued by the publishing industry is not to scold poor people, it’s to change the industry in a way that will allow authors to make a living wage even while broadening access to their works. Poor marginalised readers often have restricted or no access to books they can see themselves in, while at the same time having the greatest need for them, and I do not blame anyone in that situation for accessing these books the only way they can. But I digress.

What I’m getting at is that this situation caused me to pick up They Both Die at the End with some trepidation. I always like to give marginalised authors a fair chance though, so I tried to approach it with an open mind in spite of my reservations.

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Rating: one (1 out of 5)

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today.

Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.

For a book promising a “great adventure”, They Both Die at the End moves rather slowly. It’s a very short book, and much of it is wasted on boring exposition, but without ever delving into how our world evolved into what it is in the book. To me, that was relevant information, so the lack of explanation was grating.

The main characters are Mateo and Rufus, both queer Latinx boys. Unfortunately, I immediately developed an intense dislike for both of them because they’re insufferably melodramatic and self-important. Mateo, a boilerplate decent human, is repeatedly described as being oh so quirky for being kind. Rufus, on the other hand, is introduced while almost beating another boy to death out of jealousy over a girl. That’s pretty damning behaviour in my book, but the author is adamant about trying to convince the reader that the beating was an out of character transgression, and that Rufus is really a good person.

These characterisations really turned me off the main characters, and it was hard to connect with them or for the emotional stakes to ever get off the ground. I was ecstatic when I found myself rooting for them at one point in the last third of the book, but the emotional connection didn’t last.

The world-building and introduction of seemingly random but in fact interconnected characters kept hinting at a bigger overarching plot that the author never delivered on. The ending was very anticlimactic and the only emotions it left me with were confusion and dissatisfaction. The story consisted entirely of meandering strings that the author refused to wrap up. Silvera may have been aiming for profundity with the open ending, but the execution was floundering and struggled to create any emotional pay-off. In general, the writing was too heavy on pathos and melodrama to be enjoyable for me.

I know a lot of people love this book, and it’s exciting that Silvera is writing own voices books about queer boys of colour, but for me, this really missed the mark. To top it all off, the author included a completely unnecessary jab at homeless people, which re-confirmed that even people coming from poverty can have deeply internalised classist attitudes. Considering these attitudes of Silvera’s and my general dislike of his writing, it’s unlikely that I will be picking up any other books by this author.

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