Review and summary, synopsis of They Both Die at the End by author Adam Silvera
Spoiler Free Review
They Both Die at the End, by Adam Silvera, is the kind of book that will leave you stunned even though you know exactly what is going to happen. It’s an amazing testament to Silvera’s skill as an author that he is able to tell you exactly how the book will end and it will still have an incredibly strong impact on the reader.
The genre could be described as a platonic romance, bromance, a tearjerker, and a futuristic drama. Based on the description and the vibe that people give it many assume it to be an LGBTQ romance when it’s actually a story of strong friendship above anything else. It does include both romance and LGBTQ elements but the bulk of the story focuses on two young men partnering up for the end of their lives. Being alone can be remedied through many kinds of relationships, not only romantic or sexual.
The titular They in this young adult tale are two young men, boys really, who are notified that they are going to die sometime before midnight. In this unusual not too distant future there is a mysterious technology run by a company called Death Cast which can predict death with 100% accuracy. Between the hours of midnight and 3 AM they call everyone who is going to die that day and let them know.
18 year old Mateo and 17 year old Rufus both receive this call at the beginning of the book and the rest of the story follows them through their last day. They meet each other by using an app called Last Friend, designed to allow anyone to not have to be alone on their last day. Sort of a Tinder for the dying.
The story is phenomenal in its character development. I felt so strongly for both of these characters as well as their friends and families. I was not only heartbroken for them but for all of those that had to grieve their loss. Anyone who has experienced death and loss will find this book captivating and relatable.
It is also quite the page turner. With short chapters that alternate between Mateo and Rufus with a few other players in between we are drawn into a detailed world with personal connections between anyone and everyone. Each character impacts not only the characters they recognize but people far beyond their social circle as well.
They Both Die at the End takes place within less than 24 hours but I feel as though I got to enjoy a short lifetime with Mateo and Rufus. I felt for them, I grew to know them, I grew to love them, I grieved for them.
The book also obviously brings up an important discussion question. Would you prefer to know in advance that you were going to die that day or would you rather it be a surprise? Also, how would you spend those precious final hours? Seriously, let me know in the comments.
I strongly recommend this tear jerker book to anyone with a heart. Thinking about it days later I’m still getting all the feels. I am putting this one on my short list to re-read at some point in the future.
This novel has been picked up to be adapted into a television series. It is currently listed as in development.
5/5 crying faces 😭😭😭😭😭
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They Both Die at the End Summary
The book starts with Mateo, an 18 year old nervous young man who receives his Death Cast phone call shortly after midnight. The rude woman on the phone briefly mixes up his name so Mateo gets teased with a second of hope that she has the wrong number, alas she was mistaken and Mateo is slated to die today.
Death Cast is a mysterious company that, between midnight and 3 AM calls everyone who is going to die that day and informs them of their fate. They are never wrong. Never.
Silvera was wise to not go in to explaining this odd technology. He simply leaves it as no one knows. This is not a science fiction novel. For the purposes of this story we do not need to know how Death Cast makes their predictions, just that they do and that they’re always right. Delving any deeper into it would only make us question its plausibility.
They Both Die at the End’s second main character, 17 year old Rufus, also gets the call very early that morning. However, he wasn’t sleeping like our quiet Mateo, he was beating another young boy half to death when his phone rings. The call was the only thing that stopped him from brutally beating his ex girlfriend’s new boyfriend, Peck.
Here we have two very different characters. Just as in real life the way to get them together is through an app. The Last Friend app is designed for those on their last days, called Deckers, to meet with other Deckers or just friendly strangers so that they don’t have to die alone.
Unsurprisingly, the Last Friend app is mostly perverts and people looking to manipulate people in their most desperate state. Because of this, Mateo nearly gives up finding someone to spend his final hours with. Until he matches with Rufus and they decide to meet in person.
Mateo is alone because his dad has been in a coma for the last two weeks and he has very few friends. He’s nervous and shy and his only friend is a young girl who dropped out of their high school when she became pregnant. He knows he needs to say goodbye to his dad and to her and her kid but does not want to burden them with grief.
Rufus is alone on his last day by force. He has many friends that all live at the same home for foster kids as he does. He wants to have a funeral so he gathers the whole house together but his ex girlfriend arrives with her new boyfriend and he calls the cops on Rufus. Not wanting to spend his last day in jail he flees and cannot go back to his loved ones.
They meet at Mateo’s place and do not know how to spend their final hours so they start by checking off the necessary boxes. They go to the hospital to say goodbye to Mateo’s dad and that is the first scene where I knew this book would play with all of my emotional strings until I was a withered mass on the floor. Seriously, this one is a tear jerker.
Mateo says goodbye to his comatose father and Rufus waits for him outside the room but comes back in time to witness him singing his father’s favorite song for him. It’s written in a way that is quite touching. I really started to feel for both of these poor souls. None of us know how to say goodbye but the best goodbyes are personalized.
As they leave the hospital they encounter a homeless man. Since they’re dying they really don’t need to hoard cash anymore so they give him what they have in their pockets and he is so grateful I nearly teared up. So many moments like this in They Both Die at the End that filled me to bursting with feelings!
Then we get to Mateo’s friend Lidia’s place. He wants to say goodbye but doesn’t want to burden her so after playing with her kid, saying a bunch of suspiciously kind things, and helping her with chores, he leaves cash on her kitchen counter and leaves without saying anything else.
Mateo and Rufus begin to talk about deeper and more meaningful things and it comes to light that Rufus is running from the cops. Mateo is scared but ultimately decides to stay by his Last Friend’s side. He did want to take more risks after all. One of the best recurring themes in young adult literature is the friends who make each other better versions of themselves. Remember, we’re not in this alone.
They need some excitement on their last day so they go to a VR studio designed for Deckers to go on virtual adventures without timely travel that could eat into their last hours. They decide to try skydiving but are disappointed in how fake it is. It’s not actually dangerous, little risk little reward. This spawns more deep conversation and bonding between them.
Their next stop is to the cemetery where Mateo’s mother is buried. She died during childbirth. Rufus’ parents died in a horrible accident along with his sister, he was the only one to not receive the death call that morning and the only one to survive driving into that lake. (Side note, this is one of my biggest fears😱).
Mateo wants to talk to the mother he never knew and is startled that they are already digging his own grave right next to hers. Mateo and Rufus spend some time in Mateo’s grave talking and growing ever more fond of each other. Such powerful imagery!
The next main plot point in They Both Die at the End brings in a serious question that I’m sure any reader had while reading this book. If you know death is coming how does that change your behavior? Does being told you’re going to die trigger the events that kill you?
One Decker gets the call that same morning and decides that he is not going down alone. He straps a bomb to himself and heads to his gym. The boys are in the bookshop next door when the bomb goes off and they escape relatively unharmed. Would any of that had happened had he not been told he was going to die? Would any of the other casualties have died as well?
Meanwhile, while the boys are bonding and becoming good friends on their last day Peck is still not ready to let his beating go. We find out he is part of a gang and has a history with violence and weapons. He gathers his closest gang members and gets his gun. He’s going to find Rufus and end his life himself.
Lidia gets a hold of Mateo and begs to meet with him. She knows him well enough to have read the signs that he got the call and demands to say goodbye properly. They all go to a different Decker fake travel location but this one is much higher quality. Mateo gains some courage and the three of them go cliff diving. Mateo held Rufus’ hand to make the jump and feels in his heart that he never wants to let go. Rufus feels this too.
From there they go to a dance club and Rufus’s friends, finally released from questioning by the police, meet with him and post to Instagram where they are. Peck sees the post and is on his way.
Before Peck arrives Mateo and Rufus sing karaoke together and at the end of the song Mateo kisses Rufus. Rufus kisses back. Up to this point in the book I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a romance. I was just enjoying their friendship. But once that kiss happened I knew that’s what we all wanted this whole time. My heart swelled with the love they have for each other and the love I felt for them.
Mateo then properly comes out to Lidia and she embraces him. At this touching moment Peck shows up with his gang and shoots at Rufus. The boys escape harm once again. They flee back to Mateo’s apartment.
They spend time holding each other and talking and then exchange I love yous and I cried. It was so sweet! These boys! I love them too! At this point in the book I was trying desperately to trick myself that the title was a misnomer. They can’t die!
But then, Mateo gets up from their nap to make them both some tea. He ignites his gas stove which blows into flames and kills him quickly. At the time of writing this it’s been four days since I read this and even now I’m getting choked up just thinking about it. I cried so hard, like I had just found out I lost someone I cared for cried. It happens so quickly and it’s over just like that.
Rufus tries desperately to save him (more tears from me) but he can’t. He goes to the hospital at the insistence of the emergency personnel. There he decides to go back to Mateo’s dad’s room. He tells him all about their last day together and leaves a note of where to find the pictures of them for when he wakes up.
As Rufus leaves the hospital he crosses the street without looking both ways as Mateo so strongly urged all day. He’s hit by a car and dies. Once again, more tears from me. The ending of this book absolutely wrecked me. I think it made me cry more than any other book I can even think of and I would read it again in a second.
I loved this tearjerker and I just felt so strongly for these characters. The author managed to put me right there with them and I felt every emotion that they felt. It’s a beautiful story that I cannot recommend enough. It’s wonderfully written and has exactly as much as it needs to be a successful tale. It is not a sentence longer than it should be and is a very quick read.
Even though you know exactly how it will end you still feel unprepared. Just as in real life. We all know that we all die in the end but it’s always too soon.
5/5 Amanjas crying in the breakroom on her lunch break because she couldn’t wait til she got home to finish reading it even though she knew she’d end up crying like a baby 😭😭😭😭😭
For more heartstring tugging YA check out The Sun is Also a Star.
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Yes, this novel contains a positive representation of a gay romance.
Tear-jerker. It will make you cry. Also, drama and romance.
Yes! Rufus and Mateo do kiss and they fall in love in a very pure and heartwarming way.
Yes. The romance is secondary to their growth in their final days but there is a strong romantic element.
Not at this time. It is in the works to be adapted into a series for HBO.
Mateo dies from his stove exploding due to a gas leak. Rufus gets hit by a car while crossing the street.
Discussion Questions for They Both Die at the End
- Would you want to live in a world with a countdown timer to death? How would this change the way your live your day to day life?
- Mateo and Rufus experience a lifetime of their relationship in a single day. How do you feel about their transition from friends to more romantic partners? Did it ring true to you or did it just feel like what the author knew the reader might want?
- Discuss the role of memory in the novel. How do the characters use their precious remaining time to share meaningful stories with each other and to say goodbye to other loved ones?
- How does Silvera’s worldbuilding create a sense of urgency in the novel? Does this feeling of inevitability contribute to the novel’s themes?
- The title “They Both Die at the End” is a spoiler for the book’s ending. How did this change the way you experienced the book?