'They Both Die at the End' author Adam Silvera took this unconventional road to YA success

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YA literature is experiencing a renaissance. There are more intriguing voices and diversity in its pages than ever. In a new series, USA TODAY profiles five best-selling YA authors leading the charge to talk about the books, writers and moments that shaped their careers. So far, we've talked to Jenny Han and Angie Thomas. This week is Adam Silvera. Still to come are Jason Reynolds and Sabaa Tahir.

Adam Silvera’s first love is writing. Long before he learned to cherish reading, Silvera was writing his own stories. At 11, he was writing self-insert fiction by making himself a character in popular superhero stories. In high school, he had to take summer school three years in a row because he was "so consumed with storytelling," he says.

"I would come home and instead of doing homework, I would write my stories,” Silvera says. “I was a well-behaved student, but I was not academically gifted by any measure.”

So what book eventually sparked a love of reading for Silvera, bestselling author of "They Both Die at the End"? Like many of his generation, he devoured the "Harry Potter" and "The Hunger Games" series. But his true watershed moment came while reading “The Mortal Instruments” series by Cassandra Clare at age 19. He was a gay Latino from New York City's South Bronx, and it was “the first time that I got exposed to a gay character in a fantasy novel or even in any book, period. I didn't even realize that we could write queer characters into books,” Silvera says.

Author Adam Silvera
Author Adam Silvera

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“I was so mesmerized by this queer love story playing out between this gay demon hunter and bisexual warlock. It's like this: When we talk about representation, making an impact … this is that feeling, like strings of connection that are built between a reader and a character.”

The more books he found with characters in whom he saw parts of himself, the more he liked to read. Silvera says "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe," Benjamin Alire Sáenz's coming-of-age novel, was the first book about queer Latinos he read. "I was just kind of shocked. I was like, 'Oh, we can write a book like this?' That book was such a gift to me.”

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TV shows and video games also helped Silvera hone his storytelling and led him to become involved in writing fan fiction online. He loved shows such as “Charmed,” “Supernatural and “X-Men” and says video games don't get the credit they deserve in narrative building. "'Fable' was my favorite fantasy game, because the player got to decide if they were going to be the hero or villain or someone walking that middle line. I loved observing the benefits and consequences of my choices and watching how it changed the story for better or worse."

Silvera knew writing was his future and crafted his own education rather than attend college. He worked as a bookseller for Barnes & Noble and later at New York City’s Books of Wonder. He attended the Gotham Writers Workshop. He reviewed children and YA books on Shelf Awareness. “I built my own MFA with various jobs that taught me so much about both publishing and storytelling," he says.

"They Both Die at the End," by Adam Silvera
"They Both Die at the End," by Adam Silvera

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Now, at age 31, Silvera is a lauded author of such LGBTQ YA books as “Infinity Reaper,” “Infinity Son,” “More Happy Than Not” and “History Is All You Left Me.” He co-wrote “What If It's Us” with Becky Albertalli and its sequel, “Here’s to Us,” also co-written with Albertalli, is due in December.

But it’s 2017's “They Both Die at the End” that is his and his readers' favorite. The novel follows Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio, who become friends and form a strong bond on the day they meet, which is also the day they die. The novel recently became a mainstay on the USA TODAY Best-Sellers list thanks to fans who began posting positive responses about the book on TikTok.

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“I think, especially with everything that we've encountered in the pandemic, ("We Both Die at the End") has kind of given people a chance to take a step back and see what they value most in life and how they can make the most out of each of their days and not take things for granted anymore.”

Silvera is not going to stop telling stories anytime soon. He recently reacquired the rights to “They Both Die At the End” and is developing the series. He is also developing his first novel, “More Happy Than Not,” into a series with HBO Max, according to Deadline. And he will, of course, be writing. He plans on finishing the final installment in his "Infinity Cycle" trilogy as well as getting started on some new books.

“Yeah, I am really busy for the next couple of years.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'They Both Die at the End' author Adam Silvera's unconventional road

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