As someone with health anxiety and a fear of dying, They Both Die At The End was an anxiety-inducing, emotional read.
I have no doubt that was the intended response.
I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant when I bought this – a suggestion from my discord server as a story to make you cry. Yes, I like to torture myself, clearly.
Separated into four parts, each accompanied by an inspiring quote, the story follows Mateo and Rufus as they’re contacted by “Death-Cast”, a government-run scheme that tells people that they’re going to die that day.
You can see why this was probably a bad idea for a hypochondriac to read.
Thanatophobia aside, this book was a beautiful, inspiring, bittersweet masterpiece.
Throughout the novel, we’re introduced to several characters, some of which seem out of place, but they all form an interconnected web. Each new character is somehow involved in Mateo and Rufus’ story, told from the third person (as opposed to first person, in which both Mateo and Rufus’ narratives are written). And each are either directly involved with the boys, have interacted in some way, or are inspired by them, unbeknownst to the boys themselves.
Beautifully entwined in this novel is the idea that we are all connected. From the side characters influencing the boys’ story, to the Pluto gang of the foster home Rufus lives in. We are all connected through some cosmic power. And it displays perfectly just how we all have an influence on each other.
Cosmic connection aside, this book is about the connection made by two very different boys.
Although similar age, Mateo and Rufus are complete opposites; Mateo has lived as a hermit, hidden away in order to be safe. Rufus, on the hand, is introduced beating someone up and is consistently encouraging Mateo to break out of his comfort zone.
However, later on we see a complete shift.
Mateo escapes his comfort zone, finding love, laughter and joy in his final hours. Whereas Rufus is faced with the reality of the situation, and how scary facing death actually is.
“My whole I’m-ready-for-whatever-is-gonna-hit-us thing is bullshit, and I’m scared shitless.”Rufus, They Both Die At The End
Mateo and his fear at the beginning of the novel resonates with me for reasons you can probably guess.
If I was told I was going to die within the next 24 hours, I would love to imagine I would react by making the most of it. But like Mateo, I would most likely be procrastinating even leaving my bed. In fact, Mateo’s growth from hermit to “hero” is what I dream of doing with my own life. Although I hope I have more than 24 hours to get there.
What’s more, his ability to look at his past and realise just how much death and the fear of dying had a grip on him is something I don’t think many of us are able to do. And yet, we face it every day. Because as adults, we are faced by the reality of our mortality more and more. A mortality that we were simply unaware of as children.
I miss when I was so young I didn’t know to be afraid of death.Mateo, They Both Die At The End
Inevitably, the topic of afterlife is discussed between the boys.
As I read their theories, I found myself impatient to find out what exactly happens once we die. Except, I knew this book wouldn’t address that. The yearning for an answer came not from fiction, but reality. That split second where I thought I could actually find out what happens when I die.
“Why can’t we have a chance?” I ask Rufus.
“A chance at what?” He’s looking around, taking pictures of the arena and the lines.
“A chance at another chance,” I say. “Why can’t we knock on death’s door and beg or barter or arm-wrestle or have a staring contest for the chance to keep living. I’d even want to fight for the chance to decide how I die. I’d go in my sleep.”Mateo, They Both Die At The End
I know, I haven’t given Rufus enough credit. From goodbyes cut short with everyone he’s lost, his story is a deep reminder that for many us, we aren’t able to say goodbye. And even when we are faced with knowing we’re going to die, life (or death) can get in the way. As it always does.
But for me, Mateo really is the embodiment of my own experience. Because I focus so much on the what-ifs and could-bes that I often forget about the what-is. I am alive and young and healthy, but I am still afraid. Mateo showed me that even I can learn to just let go, and live.
“I only care about the endings we lived through today. Like how I stopped being someone afraid of the world and the people in it.”Mateo, They Both Die At The End
This story captures emotion in its rawest form.
From the petrifying realisation you’re going to die, to the rush of realising you’re in love. It questions our perceptions on time, forcing us to face up to how much of it we waste – whether that be on hiding away, or hiding our feelings. For me, They Both Die At The End is a novel that makes us look at ourselves and question everything we believe about life, love and fear.
“People have their time stamps on how long you should know someone before earning the right to say it, but I wouldn’t lie to you no matter how little time we have. People waste time and wait for the right moment and we don’t have that luxury. If we had our entire lives ahead of us I bet you’d get tired of me telling you how much I love you because I’m positive that’s the path we were heading on. But because we’re about to die, I want to say it as many times as I want – I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you.”Mateo, They Both Die At The End
They Both Die At The End is a story with one simple meaning behind it – to live each day like it’s our last.
From Steve Jobs, to Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, to the boys themselves, this message was unavoidable throughout. And as a hypochondriac, it’s a life lesson I am very desperate to learn.
So, from the words of Oscar Wilde, and my favourite quote used in the book, I leave you with this:
To live is the rarest thing in the world.
Most people exist, that’s all.Oscar Wilde
Find out more about Adam, the novel and where you can buy it on his website.