IN PARTNERSHIP WITH
October 13, 2022 6:00 AM EDT

Adam Silvera gets as close to his characters as his readers do. The first—and only—time he cried while writing was at the death of one of the main characters in his third young-adult novel, 2017’s They Both Die at the End. He’d spent so much time outlining the story, he says, that “I knew that kid.” But his new prequel, The First to Die at the End, offers more hope for new characters he’s also come to love.

Both books follow queer love stories with Latinx protagonists. “I am dead set on writing queer characters for the rest of my life,” he explains. “I’m a queer man. I don’t need to contribute to the canon of heterosexual literature. If no other books were published about straight people, we would still be outnumbered for years.” At 32, Silvera has published eight young-adult novels, all of them centering the experiences of queer characters.

Anita Lashey

They Both Die at the End saw an unexpected spike in sales in August 2020, when fans on BookTok—the corner of TikTok dedicated to books—began recommending it in droves. That popularity, which led to its forthcoming TV adaptation from the creator of Bridgerton, is the realization of a dream that began when he started writing fan fiction for franchises like Harry Potter and Marvel at age 11. At 21, the idea for his debut novel came to him. He’d been surrounded by books when he started working in the café of a Barnes & Noble. Because he was regularly recommending novels while serving up coffees, his managers moved him to the sales floor, where he got an informal education in YA literature.

For Silvera, his books have been a way to reimagine his life had he felt safe enough to be out as a teen in the South Bronx. He wants to provide a safe space, especially at a time when book bans are proliferating. “There are teenagers still struggling to come out. They’re in my inboxes, at events—sometimes I’m the first person they’ve come out to, which is really special,” he says. “That’s the power of visibility within a novel.”

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Write to Moises Mendez II at moises.mendez@time.com.

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