Before I say anything else about the book—I was lucky enough to get an ARC, along with what seems like a few hundred others—I want to say, clearly and primarily: I loved this. It was clever, and had feeling, and had me, to my core, resonating with the queerness of it all.
I also want to say that I don’t normally add my voice when there’s a massive release. I try really hard to shout about the titles that don’t have massive campaigns attached to them from big-five publishers with hundreds of ARCs and promos, as they don’t really need my help.
But I loved this so much.
Okay, now to the meat of it. This is spec fic (albeit contemporary) YA, so I want to talk about that a bit. It’s no surprise Silvera includes queerness in a spec fic world, because duh, but every time we’re included in a world that isn’t ours, it’s a reminder—and a celebration—that we do exist in this real one. Spec fic has long been a playground for queer writers, but so often when the writer isn’t queer, we just sort of vanish. Like, if the future has no queers, or this world has no queers, it’s rare anyone really notices, but as a queer reader there’s an obviousness to it that rubs painfully.
Now, in this world, the spec fic element is one thing: the technology (unexplained) exists so that is known what day you will die, with one day’s notice. Not how. Not exactly when. Just, the phone will ring, and the clock is ticking. Some time before midnight? You end. This is almost like a reversal of This is How You Die, and I couldn’t help but keep thinking about those stories at the same time. The fallout of this technology is all along a contemporary, real-world version of what Silvera imagines would come from this technology, and as far as I could tell, it was tone-perfect. People follow the social media of those running out their last-day clock. There are shows. Deals. Public scrutiny. Judgement. Matching services. It’s brilliant. In weaving in occasional POVs from other characters from the outside-in was a great way to display this interconnectivity of the fallout of the knowledge of death-days.
The characters? Puerto Rican Mateo, and Cuban-American Rufus, were done with great strokes. I believed them, liked them (and got annoyed at them), enjoyed their sometimes frantic, and sometimes lackadaisical pace through their last day. I’ve noted a few reviews said the pacing seemed to shift for them, and some of the down spots seemed a bit slow, and while I agree the pacing did slow, it made sense to me and never removed me from the narrative. From an emotional point of view, human beings can’t run on all-out all-the-time. Even in the midst of a crisis, we eventually adjust. Our brains can’t do 100% panic and sustain it. So I really quite found the “breaks” to feel organic, and I liked how—even on the last day of their life—they might just want to stop for a bit, eat some good food, and breathe. Also, it drew broader strokes around the characters families and cultures and added weight to the reality that life was ending for these two, but not for all the lives they were touching.
But, as I said before, it was more than that. I rooted for them in a queer way that I might have trouble explaining, but goes back to what I said about it resonating on a queer level.
So let me try.
The whole framing of the “seize the day” narrative around these queer kids was so spot-on. They had a day. One day. And in that day, they had some choices to make about how and what they would allow themselves to be, and most of those choices were about whether or not they would be themselves. It’s frankly a perfect analogy of a queer life reduced to a twenty-four hour period. This is every day as a queer person: a loop of choices about where, when, and how you can position yourself to be yourself. The notion of so many people watching them live this last day just added all the more authenticity to the allegory for me. When I’m existing in a queer space, like my own home, or Pride, or a queer club, being me is effortless. I can relax. I can be. But the moment others are watching—and boy, how people watched Mateo and Rufus—the more decisions have to be made. Is this a safe spot to touch my husband, or kiss him, or to even say the word “husband” or “queer” or in any other way out myself? Or is this a moment where the smarter and safer thing—even though it’s the diminishing thing—is to not touch, not kiss, not say, not be out, not be me.
These kids? They live all of that in one day. They choose, moment by moment, whether or not to be themselves, and that’s the brilliance of They Both Die at the End to me: Even with just one day? They know how important that is, and show the whole damn world.