Rating: LOVED! (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)
What a horrible terrible wonderful book. There's something to be said about a book that tells you in the title what will happen, but you still spend the whole entire book thinking, hoping, wishing it won't come true.
They Both Die at the End is set in the near future. Something called Death-Cast exists, a forecast of deaths. The day you're going to die, you get a phone call just after midnight. You will be dead before the next midnight. Could be minutes later, could be almost 24 hours later. Death-Cast has never been wrong.
Most of the story is told in alternating POV from Mateo and Rufus, two teenage boys who got their calls. Through an app called Last Friends, they meet each other. The entire book takes place over one single day. The two get to know each other, and we follow how their relationship grows, and what they do during their last day.
Doesn't it sound insane to hope the title is wrong? We're told early (and repeatedly) that Death-Cast has never been wrong, yet still I spent the entire book hoping somehow it wouldn't happen. [Edit: I feel like I'm spoiling the book, but... it's in the title!]
The two boys were so completely different, if they both hadn't been on their Last Day, they might never have been even friends. It's really hard to write this review, I've been crying more than thirty minutes now, and I keep restarting.
It's important to say the book isn't all sad -- just exactly the opposite of that (at least until the end). The two boys live. Mateo had been a shy boy, scared of the world, who never went out and spent all his time online. Rufus was a foster care kid who watched his family die. But together they improved each other, helped the other heal and grow, and together the two of them lived... Their deaths are never far from their (or the reader's) mind, but it's not a looming presence until the end of the story.
There were a few other POV chapters tossed in. Most were interesting (like seeing how the people who work at Death-Cast making those calls react), and while a few didn't seem necessary, it was interesting to see how other characters reacted to getting calls, too.
The author did something I really liked, though it's hard to describe it... He kept making the threads of different characters' lives interact. Rufus only downloaded the Last Friend app because he saw graffiti about it, and later in the story we met who drew that graffiti, though the characters never gain the same information. Little details from earlier in the book sometimes became important later, or sometimes just made a neat little crossing-over into another character's life later. It made life seem so woven together...
The book never covers how Death-Cast gets its information, but that's not the focus of the book, so that's not a big deal at all -- I would have read the info if the author had included a chapter about it, but the book was not lacking at all for not including that information. It was, however, very interesting to see all the new industries that popped up -- if you have a section of the population that knew it was going to die, and at least some of them have no family/friends to leave their money to, businesses would pop up to give them final things to spend it on -- VR experiences of things that they now would never be able to do, things like that.
I had two small issues with the story/book. One with the book itself: The final 5% of the book, almost 10 full minutes of reading time, was just non-story material. Tons of stuff from the publisher (HarperCollins), advertisements for the author's other books, a very long (5+ page) acknowledgement section, etc. I had thought I had so much of the story left, then suddenly it was just over! (Which now that I think about it... that's kind of like life/death, huh?)
The other issue is a spoiler. Please, please go read the book instead! But if you don't intend to, then go ahead and click to see it:
[Spoiler! Really, a spoiler!]
**** SPOILERS *****
This might sound backwards, since I was crying so much about their deaths, but I don't like that we didn't get to see Rufus's death. I think I can guess what happened, but since we KNOW he had to die, I wish it had been spelled out. I'm not sure what the point of leaving it open ended was.
**** END SPOILERS *****
As long as you're okay with a sad ending, I highly recommend this book. I mean really, really highly. It's very rare for a book to change my life, but I feel like this one has... or at least gives me ideas on how I should change it. Acting on those changes is much harder to do.