We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach is beyond intense, y’all.
“Before Ardor came we let ourselves be defined by labels—
The athlete, the slut, the slacker, the overachiever.
But then we all looked up and everything changed.
They said the asteroid would be here in two months. That gave us two months to leave our labels behind. Two months to become something bigger than what we'd been, something that would last even after the end.
Two months to really live.”
As you can see from the book description, We All Looked Up has a very Breakfast Clubby vibe: four teenagers from different backgrounds and social statuses coming together to live it up before the world ends.
Now, I love The Breakfast Club, but that is not why I bought this book. I bought this book because it has the most beautiful cover I’ve ever seen. (Plus, the dust jacket feels amazing to boot!) I saw this in the store and said, “Yep. I need that.” I know, I know, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but show me a cover this beautiful and I’ll show you a book I’d like to own even if it is terribly written.
Luckily, this book was not terribly written. In fact, it was beautifully written.
First of all, I love that this book is set prior to and up to an apocalyptic moment, but not post-apocalypse. There are so many books and movies and TV shows out right now that cover what happens after the world crumbles, but not as many deal with what happens as the world is preparing to crumble. So, that’s pretty cool.
I also liked that Wallach alternated the POV between all of the main characters. The book opens in Peter’s perspective and my first thought was honestly, “Great, another story about a privileged, popular athlete discovering himself with a group of misfits. How novel.” Thankfully, though, Wallach surprised me by the next chapter being from Eliza’s perspective, followed by Andy’s, and then Anita’s. The story wasn’t about a group of people enriching one person’s life, but instead about a group of people enriching each other’s lives.
It was beautiful:
“And there in the darkness of the hotel room, scarcely more than twenty-four hours before the maybe end of the world, the three of them managed to laugh together. It turned out that no amount of terror could stop the great human need to connect. Or maybe, Anita though, terror was actually at the heart of that need. After all, every life ended in an apocalypse, in one way or another.”
It was funny:
“The end of the world revealed the futility of all commemorative plaques.”
And it felt like a call to action:
“You don’t wanna go out of this world with regrets. If there’s something you want to do, you do it. You take this life by the balls and you tell it that you existed.”
Despite my deep admiration for this book, not everything was perfect. My biggest problem was with the stereotypes Wallach used to create some of the characters. We had the popular jock with the mean girlfriend, the over-achiever with the emotionally abusive father, and the slacker who does drugs and rides around on a skateboard. The only character who didn’t fit into any well known character molds was Eliza, as the sexually promiscuous artistic type who is also a social activist. Starting from stereotypes isn’t always a problem, but it becomes a problem when you fail to turn them into something new. The issue here is that Wallach took the stereotypical characters and turned them into a giant cliché. The book ended (almost) exactly the way I imagined it ending when I started reading it. The lesson here seemed to be that all people are more complex than we imagine and human connection is important to humanity, which, hopefully, is something everyone already realizes. I just left this book with a slight disappointment that it didn’t explore new territory and push the boundaries a bit more as far as character development.
It did push the boundaries on what a reader will believe four teenagers can get themselves into in the span of a few weeks. These kids had their noses in every kind of tomfoolery imaginable and it became almost laughable at some points.
All of that aside, Tommy Wallach’s debut novel is well worth the read, even if I have my reservations.
If you are a fan of post-apocalyptic novels, The Breakfast Club, or understanding exactly how the world would fall apart if a giant asteroid threatened to end life on the planet, then this book is for you!