Thursday, September 29, 2022

‘The First to Die at the End’ Review: Hope and Heartbreak Collide in Adam Silvera’s Death-Cast Prequel

BOOKSBOOK REVIEWS‘The First to Die at the End’ Review: Hope and Heartbreak Collide...

“For those who’ve been with me since the beginning.”

Five years ago, Adam Silvera introduced readers to the world of Death-Cast in his third book They Both Die at the End (TBDATE). In the past year and half or so, TBDATE has burst back onto the literary scene, becoming a BookTok sensation that pushed the book into the #1 New York Times bestselling spot for a year. In that time, Silvera announced that two new books set in the Death-Cast universe are on the way, and the first one, aptly titled The First to Die at the End (TFTDATE), comes out at the beginning of October.

TFTDATE is set seven years prior to TBDATE, when Death-Cast first launches its life-changing services. However, many people are skeptical about its claims in predicting the day someone will die. Orion Pagan errs on the side of caution and signs up for the service. With a heart condition that could prove fatal at any moment, he’d rather know if he’s going to die. Meanwhile, Valentino Prince has his whole life ahead of him but decides to register after a near-death accident with his twin sister. Minutes before Death-Cast is set to go live, the boys meet and instantly click. But as the service officially launches, one boy receives a call and the other doesn’t. Despite a day that will surely end in heartbreak, Orion and Valentino set out to live the best End Day possible together.

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Note: This review is spoiler-free.

One of the biggest questions that came out of TBDATE is how Death-Cast works. In TFTDATE, readers won’t get that answer, but it doesn’t make the company itself any less intriguing. In fact, the not knowing is part of what makes Death-Cast work so well. Like almost every person in the book, readers aren’t privy to the ins and outs of how Death-Cast knows people will die. Getting lost in the “how” would defeat the purpose of its very existence. Instead, Silvera emphasizes the response towards Death-Cast — the fear it evokes and the curiosity that surrounds it. Death-Cast ushers in a new era within the story’s world. Rather than focus on the “how” of Death-Cast’s predictions, Silvera instead raises questions about how this new world operates with the insight Death-Cast provides. He builds upon what he first introduced in TBDATE, providing more context to a world that had accepted (and embraced) Death-Cast as the norm.

Despite not knowing the nitty-gritty of Death-Cast, readers do receive a glimpse inside the call center as the company’s employees call Deckers (registered users who are dying). It was so interesting to learn a bit more about how the company operates from that standpoint, and how it helps employees cope with delivering tragic news. Death-Cast’s creator, Joaquin Rosa, also receives his own fair share of chapters. While Joaquin first and foremost is running a company, Silvera brings a terrific humanity to the character, someone who’s ultimately well-intentioned and using his resources to help others the best way he knows how.

The true heart of TFTDATE, though, is Orion and Valentino. Silvera breathes so much life into both, providing each boy a rich history that is… well it hurts, I won’t lie. But their individual backstories make them feel all the more real. Through Orion, Silvera emphasizes how family doesn’t end in blood; it can be found. Chosen. Orion’s dynamic, and bond, with his best friend Dalma and her family prove just that. Even surrounded with love, readers also see Orion’s deeper struggles with his heart condition and some of the guilt he experiences concerning it. Valentino, on the other hand, has a rougher time on the family front, save for his connection with his twin sister, Scarlett. Something that particularly stood out for me is how Silvera brought in religion to demonstrate how Valentino navigates his identity on different fronts. Speaking as someone who was raised Catholic, much of Valentino’s journey rang true for me (though certain things weren’t as harsh). Silvera hit the nail on the head with that aspect that adds a great layer to Valentino.

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As a unit, Orion and Valentino absolutely thrive. It’s almost easy to forget they’ve only known each other for less than 24 hours. They have such a playful and sweet dynamic that makes their ending even more painful. (Did I mention this book hurts?) Through both of them, not just the one living his End Day, Silvera reiterates the fear of the unknown with Death-Cast. The company may know the day someone dies, but not the how or when, instilling a visceral paranoia through the pair. However, Orion and Valentino place the fear and swirl of “what ifs” on the back burner as they go through their day. They’re compassionate and big-hearted. They help each other through their grief as it takes many forms. Silvera grants them moments of self-love that they extend to each other, and that readers will feel, too.

The First to Die at the End is bittersweet in all the best ways. Though Silvera is known for writing gut-wrenching stories, he never fails to find small moments of hope within, and TFTDATE is a shining example of how he strikes that balance. Like TBDATE before it, TFTDATE is going to end with death and heartbreak; that much is inevitable. It’s emotionally heavier than its predecessor, as Silvera doesn’t hold back on many of the story threads he includes. Very rarely will a reader find a character plot line that doesn’t hurt in some way. Yet in all of that, maybe even in spite of everything, the story bursts with moments of joy, of tenderness, of wonder, of love in different forms, and, most importantly, of hope. It’s a hope readers can walk away with after reading (even as they drown in a deluge of tears). It’s a hope that may last for a day or years to come, but nevertheless, it’s there, and it’s loud, and it’s welcome.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I’m glad Silvera returned to the Death-Cast universe. TFTDATE was not only a welcome addition but some of Silvera’s best writing to date. Each of his books carry their strengths and growth. This time around, that maturation felt more notable, and, heart-wrenching story aside, was a delight to read. Orion, Valentino, and every other character that gets a dedicated POV each contain their own depths. No matter how short or long their chapters, Silvera wrote every single character with evident care. There are wonderful nods to TBDATE throughout, and surprising twists to keep readers on their toes. Silvera again forces us to really stop and ponder not just the inevitability of death, but whether we’re living life or merely surviving. Death-Cast is calling, and this time, you’ll want to pick up.

The First to Die at the End releases on October 4. Pre-order your copy here, with various editions available. Beginning on release day, Silvera will be heading on tour for the book. Dates and other information can be found here.

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