The cover of They Both Day at the End by Adam Silvera. Two shadowy boys walk along a bridge on a moonlit night, their shadow is of the grim reaper.

About the Book

Title: They Both Die at the End (Death-Cast #1)
Published: 2017

Cover Story: I’ve Heard That Title
Drinking Buddy: One Half
Testosterone Level: Surprisingly Subdued
Talky Talk: Have a Nice Death
Bonus Factors: 24, Latinx Americans
Bromance Status: Let’s Spend the Day Together

Cover Story: I’ve Heard That Title

I like the shadow of the Reaper following the two boys, which I totally didn’t notice until I’d finished. As for the title…I swear, I’ve heard it before.

The Deal:

In an alternate contemporary timeline, everyone gets advance warning of their death. Just after midnight, you receive a phone call from Death-Cast, informing you that you are going to die today. No details, no specific time. Have a nice day.

Two older teens, Rufus and Mateo, are hit with this bad news. Using a social media app, they connect and decide to spend their last 24 or so hours getting the most out of what little time is left to them.

Drinking Buddy: One Half

Two pints of beer cheersing

You really could not find two more opposite personalities. Mateo is shy and reclusive, escaping into his video games. His father, his only family, has fallen into a coma after an embolism. Rufus, on the other hand, is outgoing and fun-loving. An orphan (his entire family got the call last year), he loves his foster brothers and parents.

The problem is that Rufus’s story opens with him beating the crap out of his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. Not a fight, but a ‘jump the guy with your friends, bash his face into the concrete, smash his phone, and leave him bleeding on the ground’ shit. As we read the book we realize this was a very unusual spate of violence for Rufus, but it really soured me on his character. I just couldn’t get over it.

Testosterone Level: Surprisingly Subdued

So if you only had one day, what would you do? Try to find love? Well, Rufus just got dumped and Mateo isn’t exactly a Casanova. Cheap thrills? Mateo, despite his short time, is very reluctant to take risks. Spend it with those you love? Rufus is kind of on the run from the cops after last night’s dust up, so he can’t go home. Mateo visits his friend Lidia, a young single mother and his only friend, but doesn’t tell her it’s for the last time.

Actually, this day is surprisingly low key. Instead of desperately trying to have fun every second, Rufus and Mateo just kind of hang out, discuss life, and appreciate the little things: the park, good food, and the regrets of what they’ll never do.

As for the romantic side of things, it’s obvious that Lidia kind of sees Mateo as a potential husband/stepfather to her child, but Mateo is too shy to act on this. As for Rufus, he’s still hung up on his ex. He’s also proudly bisexual, so maybe he’s looking for a partner in the wrong place.

Talky Talk: Have a Nice Death

Okay, so the whole Death-Cast thing is never explained. All we know is that’s it’s completely infallible, that the people who actually make the phone calls don’t know how it’s possible either (and have a very high turnover rate), and that it’s been going on since around 2009. We don’t know the how or the why of the calls (kind of like that one episode of The Twilight Zone). The Death Callers have all the false sincerity of a telemarketer (Mateo’s caller keeps referring to him by the wrong name). It’s kind of unsettling.

Everyone just accepts this. But I think there are some interesting moral implications about this ‘service’. For instance, the book title isn’t just cute, neither of our heroes make it to the acknowledgements page. And they both meet their ends in ways that wouldn’t have happened, had they not gotten the call. So did the call cause their deaths? And what would happen at an event like 9/11? If thousands of workers at the Twin Towers received the call, wouldn’t they realize something was up and maybe not go into work? Wouldn’t they not go to work if it was the last day of their life anyway?

None of this is ever discussed, as the author chooses to concentrate on the characters rather than the science/cosmology of his universe (just like in one of his other books). And that’s a fine thing. Rufus and Mateo were likeable enough to carry the book without us needing to peek behind the curtain.

Bonus Factor: 24

Neon sign that says 24 HRS

So Mateo receives the call at 12:22 AM and then we’re off. Everything in the book happens before midnight the next day. We mostly alternate between Rufus and Mateo’s point of view, though we occasionally hear from other characters, both major and minor. The author does a good job of bringing odd bits of the story together in subtle, easily-missed ways. For instance, the boys notice an old pay phone with the name Lena scrawled on it. A hundred pages later, a celebrity (who just received the call), reflects on his first love, Lena, and how he still writes her name around the city.

The ‘book in day’ plot is difficult to pull off (believe me), but the author succeeds.

Bonus Factor: Latinx Americans

The flags of Latin American nations

While all the main characters are American, Mateo is of Puerto Rican heritage (yes, part of the US, I know), Rufus is Cuban, and Lidia is Colombian. Nice to see an under-represented demographic in a YA book.

Bromance Status: Let’s Spend the Day Together

I couldn’t think of a more interesting pair to spend the day with. Unless it was my last.

Full FTC disclosure: I received neither money nor knowledge of the date of my death for this review.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.