Tournament of Books, Round Two: They Both Die at the End vs Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

ggtvaHenry “Monty” Montague is the ultimate spoiled, rich playboy. His father’s anger hasn’t been able to keep him from indulging every impulse: parties, gambling, alcohol, meaningless trysts with the nearest available woman or man. There’s only one impulse he won’t pursue: his feelings for his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Monty has begun his last hurrah, a tour of Europe with Percy before his father makes him face his adult responsibilities and take on the family estate. However, when Monty’s impulsive behavior lands him, Percy, and Monty’s sister Felicity in hot water with the wrong people, the freedom tour becomes a run for their lives.

Monty is an irrepressible, lovable idiot whose hilarious but maddening antics kept me alternately laughing, groaning, and SMDH. The book is engaging, funny, and thoroughly readable. Author Mackenzi Lee skillfully incorporates issues of privilege, race, gender, and ableism, giving real depth to a story that nevertheless maintains the lightness, fun, and accessibility of a comedic, romantic adventure.


They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

tbdateConfession time: If I hadn’t needed to review this book, I probably wouldn’t have finished it. I’d recently read another book (Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin) based on the exact same concept: it’s a world just like ours, except that everyone knows ahead of time that today is the day they will die. How different could these books be? (Very, as it turns out.) What’s more, the book didn’t immediately pull me in. I slogged through the first third of the book, and it felt like nothing at all had happened.

Nevertheless, I persisted. They Both Die at the End won me over, eventually. I closed the book with that dreamy reluctance one gets at the end of a really good book. But it was a very (VERY) slow burn. Silvera spends a long time on the setup of the characters and their circumstances before the narrative really gets started.

Silvera’s book makes a great addition to the #OwnVoices canon, featuring a gay Puerto Rican main character (Mateo) and a bisexual Cuban main character (Rufus). Secondary characters are represented in less detail, but are diverse and unstereotyped.

Mateo and Rufus both start the day with a call from Death-Cast, the service that notifies the imminently-mortal of their upcoming demise. Mateo, who can perhaps best be described as reticent, isn’t sure how to make the best use of his last day. He wants to see his loved ones, but is afraid to go out. What danger lies in wait for him outside the safety of his apartment? But he’s spent his whole life avoiding the scary stuff, and he knows it’s his last chance to experience what the world has to offer him.

Rufus is in the middle of beating someone up when he gets the call. In fact, he briefly thinks the call is coming in for his victim. When the consequences of this fight catch up to him, he ends up on the run, unable to spend his last hours with the people most important to him.

It’s the Last Friend app, a social media app for Deckers (the soon-to-be dearly departed), that brings these two strangers together on their last day. They meet and set out across the city, to see their loved ones and seek meaningful experiences.

As the two get to know one another, trust begins to blossom, and each brings out something greater from the other. Rufus draws Mateo out of himself, helping him build the confidence to make something meaningful out of the time he has left. Mateo brings out a selfless, generous side of Rufus that has been overshadowed by his recent darker impulses. It’s this becoming that is the beautiful part of the book, and it’s special enough to cast its glow over the reader up to the last page and beyond.

They Both Die at the End left me thinking of a line by my favorite poet, e.e. cummings:

unbeingdead isn’t beingalive

Life, in other words, is for living. Seize the day. Make this day count, and all the other clichés. They’re clichés for a reason: they’re true.


And the winner is…

ggtva

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

This was a very difficult decision. Despite the very (VERY) slow burn of Silvera’s book, I finished it feeling certain that I’d just read something amazing. And it was! I’ll definitely be recommending They Both Die at the End enthusiastically, to the right reader.

However, it was the very (VERY) slow burn that ultimately lost this round of the Tournament of Books. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is ultimately more accessible and more engaging for the average teen reader than They Both Die at the End.



Andrea Johnson is a Teen Services Librarian at the Mount Prospect Public Library. When she’s not at the library, she’s probably hanging out with her one husband, two kids, and two cats, reading science fiction, or binge-watching Supernatural.

 




Back to Round Two, Bracket Three

Onto Round Two, Bracket Five

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Tournament of Books, Round One: Turtles All the Way Down vs They Both Die at the End

I read Turtles All the Way Down first, and about a quarter way through They Both Die at the End I was ready to give Turtles the victory. It took me awhile to get into They Both Die at the End; Mateo annoyed me, his fight with himself to actually leave his apartment dragged, and Rufus’s connection to the Plutos (the friends/family he’s made in his foster home) felt flat. But sometimes sticking with a book pays off.


Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

turtles.jpgIn Turtles All the Way Down by John Green we are introduced to Aza, who gets lost/trapped by the spiral of her own thoughts (which quite frequently have to do with how likely it is that she might have contracted clostridium difficile). There’s a missing billionaire, and her best-friend Daisy convinces Aza that they need to go talk to his son, Davis, because Aza has a vague childhood connection to him.  Aza and Daisy do meet the billionaire’s son (and learn that said billionaire is leaving his entire fortune to an obscure lizard), but this book is not a mystery and any detective work is half-hearted at best. The book is more about what is going on in Aza’s head than what is going on in the world around her. She’s struggling with OCD and invasive (I think the correct medical term was intrusive, but Aza calls them invasive) thoughts that repeatedly remind her of all the microbes she already has and what could be working its way inside her (and possibly giving her C.diff) – and thoughts like that make it really hard to enjoy kissing someone. Aza knows these thoughts are not rational, and she tries through therapy and medication (which she takes almost every day) to keep them at bay, but it doesn’t always feel like she is the one in control, and if’ she’s not in control of her thoughts, what makes her Aza. Green does an excellent job of immersing the reader in Aza’s though spirals, making you feel that yes, Aza needs to go check that band aid one more time, even though you know (as does she) that it will be fine if she doesn’t.


They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

tbdateThey Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera is at least devoid of spoilers, the outcome is in the title. When done well though, knowing what will happen doesn’t stop the reader from shedding a few tears (if they’re the type that does that sort of thing) when it comes to pass. Both Mateo and Rufus receive calls from Death Cast in the early morning hours, letting them know by the end of the day they will be dead. Mateo gets his call while sitting safely in his room (to be fair it is the middle of the night) and Rufus receives his while beating up the guy dating his ex-girlfriend. These two begin their last day as strangers and through the Last Friend App their lives come together. Their friendship starts off a bit stiff and awkward (Rufus basically has to force Mateo to leave his apartment and when Mateo finds out Rufus is wanted by the police he’s ready to bolt), which, considering they just met, is more than reasonable. Once Rufus and Mateo fell into a rhythm together though, the book came alive. I’m not usually a fan of the insta-relationship (although I did thoroughly enjoy The Sun is Also a Star so maybe with the right writer and set of circumstances it does work well), but with their deaths on the horizon, throwing themselves into something more fully and with fewer inhibitions works. By the end, their deaths definitely packed an emotional punch (there were some tears). Despite the semi-fantastical premise the book is more about the details of life and human connection.


And the winner is…

tbdate

They Both Die at the End

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera. Part of me still wants the winner to be Aza and her thought spirals, but when Silvera’s book ended I had a hard time pulling myself back to the real world. I kept rehashing and going back to Mateo’s and Rufus’s last moments, wondering about the power behind Death Cast and the gift/curse that being aware of your last day can be.



Lisa Fisherkeller Barefield is the Teen Services Supervisor at Wheaton Public Library. She’s always looking for new places to travel (real world and fictional/fantastical), regularly finds herself dancing to the music in her head, and considers herself to be a French fry connoisseur (to date Belgian fries dipped in mayonnaise are her favorite).

 




Back to Round One, Bracket Seven

Onto Round One, Bracket Nine