They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
Rating: 3 stars
In this book, people are given calls by a company called Death Cast in the early hours on the day they will die. They’re not told how or what time that day they will die, just that it’s their last day and they should live it to the fullest. This story revolves around Mateo, an 18 year old recluse who lives with his dad, except that his dad has been in the hospital in a coma for the last couple of weeks, and Rufus, a 17 year old who watched his entire family die when their car crashed into the Hudson River four months earlier. After receiving their Death Cast calls, each boy downloads the Last Friend app and eventually find each other and spend their final hours forming a friendship. They have a variety of adventures throughout the day, trying to make it last as long as possible. Rufus helps Mateo come out of his shell of fear and Mateo helps Rufus see his life in color, despite the great loss he suffered watching his family die.
There’s no denying the title of this book. They really do die at the end. And it’s pretty depressing. I understand that the theme of the book is that you should always live each day like it’s your last. Find your people and love them well. Don’t shy away from opportunity and adventure because life is worth living and living well. But I just couldn’t get past how depressing it really was. Not only that these teenagers were about to die, but that so many people in their universe got these calls every single day. Hundreds in just NYC alone? The people that are about to die are called Deckers and the city caters to them in so many ways, because there are so many of them. It’s a little bit terrifying. It’s hard to read this book and not constantly think about what you would do in that situation. It’s supposed to give you a message of hope, but I feel like knowing I could get a call like that any day would absolutely cripple me. Rufus and Mateo definitely form a unique bond as their day goes on and I like that they eventually decide being with their friends on their last day is more important than trying to save them the pain of possibly witnessing their deaths. As one that lived, I’d be so upset not to be given the opportunity to say goodbye and they realized that as well.
Overall, I was not in love with this book. I don’t shy away from sad things, though I prefer books that make me cry tears of happiness. I enjoyed the concept and the characters were mostly interesting. Mateo really spent way too long being cautious and then does a 180 in the middle of the book that felt a little bit unbelievable. But knowing your hours are limited probably does that to a person. It’s a well written and perfectly fine book, but it wasn’t for me.
Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
Rating: 5 stars
Letters to the Lost epitomizes everything that I adore in a YA novel. The central plot point revolves around two teenagers writing letters (or emails or chats) to each other, without knowing the other person’s identity. While of course also simultaneously having some sort of knowledge of each other in real life. The relationship between them grows deeper on an emotional level while they get to know each other, without some of the extraneous circumstances that come along with surviving the high school life. When done well, these types of books will always bring tears as you become highly attached to the characters and root for their ultimate happy ending.
In this book, Juliet writes letters to her mom that died months earlier in a hit and run accident. A war photographer, Juliet’s mom corresponded most frequently and deeply with her daughter through written letters and Juliet can’t figure out how to give up that connection. She continues to write and leaves the letters at her gravestone. Declan, stuck doing community service for getting drunk and crashing his dad’s car, finds and reads one of her letters while mowing the cemetery. Struck by how deep her words reach his own pain, he responds to her letter. This spurs an angry letter back from Juliet, extremely upset that a stranger has intercepted her deepest thoughts. Declan and Juliet continue to write to each other and eventually set up anonymous email addresses so they can write back and forth more quickly. In the meantime, they form a confusing and hesitant friendship with each other after a couple of rough interactions in their real lives. As you watch the main characters find their way to each other in more ways than one, you become deeply immersed in the different levels of pain they’re each going through and are truly rooting for them each to overcome their pasts and search for a way to make their own paths for the rest of their lives.
Overall, I loved this book. It was definitely on the heavy side. The characters are both dealing with family deaths. Declan struggles with a terrible family life and a step-father who is determined to make him feel absolutely worthless. But there are a host of supporting characters that really show up for both teens in the sweetest ways. Rev, Declan’s best friend, is the kind of friend we all hope to have and be. I loved their friendship as much as I loved what went back and forth between Declan and Juliet. I was also really impressed with how they came to terms with it when they each discovered who the other person was. It didn’t have the crazy teen drama that so many YA books have when things like this happened. It was a great book. It made me cry. And it made me feel a lot of things. I highly recommend reading this one!
Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
Rating: 2.5 stars
This is the story of two teenage step-siblings (although not legally) who are each dealing with their own bundle of issues. Lion, the older brother, has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is struggling with coming to terms with who he is with or without his medication. Little, the sister a year younger, sees herself as Lion’s greatest confidante which sometimes causes problems in her own world. In order to keep her away from Lion’s downward spiral, their parents send Little to a boarding school across the country where she realizes she might be in love with her roommate. The book picks up the summer after Little’s first year away when the siblings are trying to find their way back to the relationship they used to have, with a whole variety of factors and people that begin to come between them. The entire book is a very realistic portrayal of what it feels like to come of age while also struggling with mental illness and confusing sexuality.
I heard a lot of great things about this book before it was released, but I have to admit I found it rather dull and uninteresting. Little’s obsession around Lion felt uncomfortable to me. The fact that the author made their parents not legally married felt like an opening for the two kids to eventually fall in love with each other. It didn’t happen, but Little was so entirely immersed in Lion’s every move that it felt unavoidable. Throughout the book, Little is constantly referring back to vague things that happened with her roommate Iris, fighting deep attraction to her new co-worker who Lion also is attracted to, and starting a relationship with her long term buddy Emil. There was a lot of emotion going in too many different directions. Which is perhaps why it felt realistic. But maybe also why I didn’t enjoy it very much.
Overall, this book was just okay. I probably wouldn’t recommend it. It won’t have any lasting value in my mind. The subject matter was interesting, but none of the storylines really gripped me the way I had hoped.