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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that They Both Die at the End is the third novel from acclaimed author Adam Silvera. Like in his first book, More Happy Than Not, the setting is a contemporary New York City with one big life-changing piece of technology in place. In this case, it's the existence of Death-Cast, a company/organization that alerts everyone who is going to die in a given day in the wee hours of each new day. The "heralds" calling those who will die don't know when or how you will die, just that you will. There's regular use of strong language (including "f--k" and "s--t"), some disturbing violence (explosions, a gun wielded, a suicide bombing, and several ways people can die), and a little bit of romance (mostly limited to making out), but given the intense circumstances, it's all age-appropriate for mature eighth graders and up. Silvera once again conveys strong messages about love, loss, grief, acceptance, and joy in his work.
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What's the story?
Adam Silvera's third novel, THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END, takes place in an alternate contemporary universe that's basically the same except for one life-altering technological advancement: A company called Death-Cast mysteriously knows everyone who's going to die in any given day (but not how or when) and alerts each of those people somewhere between midnight and 3 a.m. Introverted New York teen Mateo Torrez receives his Death-Cast call (there's even a special ring so you know it's them) at 12:22 a.m. on September 5, 2017. It's horrifying timing, because 18-year-old Mateo's father (his mom died in childbirth) is in a coma, which means other than Mateo's best friend, single mom Lidia, there's really no one to say goodbye to or support him on his final day on Earth. In another part of New York, 17-year-old foster kid Rufus Emeterio initially misses his Death-Cast call, because he was too busy beating up his ex-girlfriend's jerk of a new boyfriend. Rufus eventually gets the call, and just wants to spend it with his foster parents and siblings (his parents and sister died in a car crash a few months earlier). The two "Deckers" (what everyone who's been alerted is colloquially called) end up meeting via an app called "Last Friend," which matches up people to spend their final day together. Mateo and Rufus help each other make their last day a memorable one.
Is it any good?
The title might tell readers what to expect, but there's a heartbreaking, heartwarming journey before the emotional end that will inspire teens to live bigger and better. Adam Silvera is one of YA's most interesting writers, because he doesn't shy away from death, grief, or loss. Like his other books, this one involves LGBTQ New York City teens, and as in his debut, there's a technological feature that changes the way people live. The premise isn't entirely new, but the way he implements it is, because Mateo and Rufus don't spend the precious time they have in their final day trying to find a desperate way around it. As Mateo makes clear early on, even a former president who hid himself in a secret shelter ended up assassinated by the Secret Service. No one can get around death once Death-Cast calls. The title isn't a spoiler, because it's not the point of the book.
Instead, Silvera's characters benefit from some of the perks of being on Death-Cast's list, like discounts and special Decker-only activities. They do small, quiet things (visit Mateo's dad in the hospital, his mom in the cemetery), as well as take virtual-reality trips around the world, and sing karaoke. The story doesn't feel like a race against time, and in fact unfolds at a slow, thoughtful pace, with the exception of a few sequences, like when bicyclist Rufus is running (well, riding) from the police or when he and Mateo are surviving (against the odds) a couple of deadly situations. In some ways, the book is reminiscent of The Sun Is Also a Star, because it's about one powerful day in which two teens change each other's lives -- and also because Silvera offers several short chapters from other characters' perspectives, always starting with whether Death-Cast has or has not called that person. This isn't a book that's going to work for readers who demand a happily ever after, but it's such a thought-provoking and sweet read nonetheless.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what characters they believe are role models in They Both Die in the End. What character strengths do they display?
Discuss how the book depicts diversity. How are Mateo and Rufus unlike the majority of young adult protagonists? Do you have to share background, identity, and race/ethnicity with characters to care about them? Why is it important to read about people like and unlike yourself?
Talk about the role of sex and sexuality in this story and in YA literature in general. Is reading about sex different from watching depictions of it on TV or in movies?
- Author: Adam Silvera
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HarperTeen
- Publication date: September 5, 2017
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 368
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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