After reading They Both Die at the End I was torn on the book. I expected a heart wrenching story about doomed souls. What I got was a story about doomed souls with a ton of waxing poetic about it thrown in. If you are a fan of philosophy around death, then this might be the book for you. But for me it felt exactly like a tragic book about people knowing they are going to die, but not what would happen in reality. I give it a 3.5. I know this book got rave reviews, but hear me out on my opposite take of those reviews. This review is also a good example of issues I look for in books as an editor. The big issues of this book for me were unrelatable and unrealistic characters, slow pacing, and too much poeticism.
A quick moment to review what the book is about.
On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today.
Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.
The world raised a lot of questions for me that were never answered. Does knowing they are going to die change people’s decisions, therefore leading to their death? Because that seems to be how things work out in this book at times. Also not telling how the death predictions work kept that end mysterious, but at the same time it felt lazy to me. Predicting deaths was the most interesting part of this book and it didn’t get explored enough in my opinion.
This book loves to philosophize, but it didn’t feel realistic to me. This is exactly what I would expect of a book setting out to give us a story about people about to die while making it as tragic as possible. Problem is, it felt too fictional to me. In it there is a side character, a lady who denies her death is coming and to me that was more realistic than the main characters. The main characters handled it all too well and accepted their coming deaths rather quick. I would have preferred a story of people trying to prevent their deaths and prove the system wrong, rather than them waxing poetic about their last day. The title left out some of the mystery about the ending as well. It got rid of some of the tension for me since I already knew how it would end. I felt like I was just trying to reach that ending out of curiosity. I didn’t connect with the characters either. In fact one of them is introduced while he beats another boy up, which immediately made me not like him. Plus all the characters seemed to come from tragic backstories, which made them feel unrealistic.
At times the story dragged for, mostly the middle of this book, because the pacing slowed too much. Things like playing on a playground while discussing their pasts and the like didn’t interest me. Twice the author tried to mislead readers about their deaths. The second time I wanted to roll my eyes. It felt too forced and highlighted the big issue of the only thing interesting left to explore was how they would die. Really that was the only thing holding my attention the whole book. And honestly? The ending was a bit of a let down for me. After a whole book building up my expectations on their deaths, it felt too weak and left me dissatisfied.
This is a good book if you want something poetic about normal teenagers facing down death. But again it felt too poetic to be anything but fiction to me. Others might feel differently because of subjectivity, but this has been my take on the weaknesses of They Both Die at the End.