So this was just...wow.
I don't know why I chose to listen to this audiobook this week as I just lost an old friend who was like a kid sister to me. I watched her grow up, and while our lives moved us in opposite directions these last years, we still had a lot of history. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding. But I digress, as usual. Man I am really bad at reviews sometimes! But this is me, and I write it as it comes.
Before I get into the story, I want to say that I loved the diversity/representation portrayed in this book. There are people from different races, ethnicities, walks-of-life, social status, and sexual orientation. It all flowed very beautifully and it wasn't forced and there was no tokenism. It's refreshing to see and it was well written, which makes it even better.
So the whole premise of this story is that a company has created a way to predict death. Now, each day between the hours of midnight and three a.m., certain people receive a call letting them know that at some time within the next 24-hours, they will die. That's pretty messed up, right?! I kind of get the idea, if you knew you were going to die, you could say 'proper' good-byes and maybe do things you never had the courage to do. But at the same time, would you really want to know? Personally, while I would get a chance to spend time with my loved ones, I would also have to live the entire day with the knowledge that I was going go die in some mysterious, unnatural way.
The story follows (specifically) Mateo and Rufus who are 17/18-year-olds and they have both received the telephone call letting them know that they are going to die. They aren't told how or exactly when; they just know they are going to die. Both are, obviously, in a state of shock and disbelief. Rufus had just lost his entire family four months prior and was living with a serious case of survivor's guilt. Mateo is a frail, and paranoid kid whose mother died giving birth to him, and his father is currently in a coma. He's sad and angry that if--when his father wakes up, Mateo will be gone without having had a chance to say good-bye.
Their stories intersect when they each decide to use an app called "Last Friends". It was created for people who get the death call and want/need someone to spend their final day with. Together Mateo and Rufus spend their last day in various places around the city, getting to know one another, and helping each other come to terms with their impending doom. There are all sorts of services throughout the city aimed toward "deckers", some are genuinely meant to help them live out a dream or have a few great final memories; while others are just meant to milk money from dying people. In less that 24-hours they become the best 'last friends' either could have hoped for. They connect on a level that most others could never understand. Mateo helps bring Rufus back to life; he was lost after the death of his family. Rufus shows the sheltered Mateo how to live the life he's always wished he could. They are so thankful that they got to meet; although wishing they could have done so sooner. But they wonder if meeting is what causes them to die.
So that's the other question, isn't it? Does knowing you're going to die inevitably cause your death? I don't want to spoil the story, but you will be asking yourselves the same questions when you read it. They story was so real (the audio cast truly brought the characters to life). It was believable and implausible at the same time. It was bittersweet and beautiful and sad. It didn't get me until right before the very end, although a different me probably would have been sniffling through a good bit of it. And while it did make me cry (it goes on the short list of books that have), I don't think it was a sad story. It was a lovely story about living each day as though it were a lifetime and not taking your tomorrows for granted.
Read this book. You won't regret it!
[I received a copy of this book through Edelweiss.]
An alternate-world story where a company named Death-Cast informs people of their impending death, and in which a lot of aspects of society are built around this: ‘Deckers’ (those people who got eh alert that they have less than 24 hours left to live) get meals , night club entrance, etc. free; a lot of blogs get devoted to chronicling their last hours, as they go about trying to make the most of what they have left; and an app, Last Friend, allows people to connect so that they’ll be able to spend that time with someone. (It is to be noted that because D-C only announces the day one is meant to die, and not the causes, a lot of Deckers try not to stay with close friends and relatives, in case their death will be due to a terrorist attack, car crash, or any other type of circumstances that could wound those other people.)
The novel follows two teenagers, Rufus and Mateo, as they meet through Last App and get to live their last day together, making memories, becoming friends, realising what they missed on, but also becoming the people they would’ve liked to be—in a somewhat paradoxical twist, in that perhaps they would never have done that, and perhaps never even known who they wanted to be, had they had their whole lives still ahead. I found this story dealt with its themes in a touching but never depressing manner. I would’ve been very miffed indeed if it had been about moping and lamenting; obviously the two boys aren’t happy about it, but they go around trying to make the most of it, trying things they may not have done on their own, and so on.
Of course, as the title explicitly says, the reader knows from the start that they both die at the end, and part of my interest in this was also to find out how they’d die, if it would leave them enough time to grow into that friendship I was promised, and whether events unfolding around them would indeed be the ones leading to their demise, or not.
I enjoyed the characters in general. Mateo’s way of gingerly opening up to braver actions was adorkable. Rufus had the making of a ‘bad boy’ but also revealed he definitely had a heart of gold. How they go about their last day was empowering. And I also liked the minor characters whose point of view I got to see as well. They were diverse (in many ways, including background, ethnicity and sexual preferences—by default I tend to consider every character as bi unless proven otherwise, cheers for Rufus here), and they allowed me to get a glimpse into the other side, what the living had to go through when confronted with the knowledge that their best friend had received the alert, and what D-C employees and related people also get to feel. (I don’t think spending your career as a customer service rep announcing people they’re going to die before tomorrow is very healthy in the long run.)
For some reason, though, I wasn’t a hundred percent invested in the book. To be fair, I suspect that’s partly because I was invested in interesting non-fiction books at the same time, and those demand more focus and attention from me. But I think that was perhaps also because of the theme: very interesting, yet necessarily leading to ‘live your life to the fullest because you’re not immortal’. Which is true, and expected, and because of this, it makes it hard to deal with it in a way that hasn’t been done already. Another thing I wasn’t sold on was the more romantic involvements; I think full-on friendship would’ve worked better for me.
Conclusion: Perhaps not a definite favourite for me, but I'll happily pick another story by this author in the future.