A lot of LGBT readers have a mountain to climb when summoning the courage to pick up a new book- a mountain of dead gays. The Bury Your Gays trope has its origins in lesbian pulp fiction, but persists across the entire LGBT spectrum to this day, with Out magazine reporting 62 lesbian and bi WLW killed onscreen in just two years.
I would therefore forgive people for hesitating before picking up Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End. But only briefly.
The premise is this: on the day a person dies, they get a telephone call from Deathcast letting them know- this is it. Mateo and Rufus, both strangers, have had their call, and now they need a Last Friend to make their final day special.
It goes without saying that the book isn’t a laugh a minute. But Silvera conveys a believable optimism- that it is possible for the right person to change your life in a single day. I must admit to not liking either of the protagonists at first. Mateo is weak, frozen by indecision, and terrified of the death that the front cover deems inevitable. Rufus is selfish and reckless, and his first scene is shocking and repulsive.
However, they redeem themselves- or rather, each other. Over the course of the book, we get to learn more about each boy through the other’s eyes, as well as how the world they live in is shaped by the fact that everyone is aware of their impending death.
Although one character is gay and the other bi, this goes beyond merely tackling LGBT concepts. Yes, Silvera made the decision to meet the Bury Your Gays trope head-on, but the key themes are death and isolation rather than either character’s sexuality. It pains me that non-MLM readers might overlook this book on account of it being “gay”, when actually it has a lot to say to anyone who has been touched by terminal illness or loss.
Both boys are already familiar with death, but that doesn’t stop them from needing to grieve for themselves. They muse on the afterlife while facing the impossible challenge of living their entire lives in a single day.
This book is clever, but not pretentious- its concepts are universal, presented from the perspectives of two teenage boys who know no more about death than any of the rest of us. Therein lies Silvera’s genius- none of us have either the time or the answers. We are Mateo and Rufus, and we aren’t going to make it out alive.
This book is far more uplifting and inspiring than I ever could have prepared myself for. There’s no getting away from the fact that They Both Die at the End– but so do we all.