We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

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!

Happy Reading,

Mallory

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

I bought Vanishing Girls and the watercolors at Brazos Bookstore in Houston. So, if you are ever near Houston, I'd highly recommend stopping in at Brazos!

I read Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver in May, and I knew immediately that I needed more Lauren Oliver in my life. So, in June I bought Vanishing Girls and it didn’t disappoint! Nick and Dara had a cool sister/frenemy dynamic between them from the start, even without the Parker drama! (But what YA book about teen girls is complete without at least a touch of boy drama? None, I say! It’s the drama we love to hate, especially when you realize you’re 22, married, and WAY too invested in the love lives of 17-year-olds. I digress.)

Along with the character dynamics, I really liked that the POV switched back and forth between Nick and Dara. Dara could have easily been the reckless, daring younger sister and nothing else, but being able to see her softer side helped me connect more with her and, by extension, Nick. I also think the POV switch helped me from siding too much with one character, and because these two were often pitted against each other, that was important.

Now, where I had trouble with the story was the build to the climax. I’m all about a slow burn when it comes to tension in a story, but Vanishing Girls was more of a stubborn flame that refused to light and then suddenly exploded in the second half of the book. The front flap tells us that Dara vanishes, so I assumed she’d, you know, vanish! I know what you’re thinking, “You know what they say about assuming, Mallory,” but the front cover said there’d be a disappearance so excuse me for expecting that to be the main part of the plot! *Calming Breaths.* Once Dara did finally disappear, I literally couldn’t put the book down. I’m not ashamed to say I carried it with me to the restroom on more than one occasion. If you like mysteries and romance and sister drama, then this book is definitely for you. If you don't like those things, then...have you considered non-fiction? I hear computer manuals are mystery free!

This brings me to the ending, which is especially spoilery. If you don’t want the ending to be ruined, then I suggest you stop here.

 

 

Hopefully you’ve come back post-reading Vanishing Girls to see what I thought about the ending you have just read. If you haven’t read the ending yet, then I’m really not sure what you are doing here. I will give you one more chance to not spoil the ending of this book for yourself. Seriously, this is the last chance. Leave. Go. Get out of here.

 

 

So, Vanishing Girls had a twist ending. I’m not sure how you feel about twist endings, but I had a creative writing professor in college who banned them (along with stories about death) from the class because he believed they were used for cheap thrills in place of a well-thought out plot. I don’t think my views are as strong as his, but I did have some deep-rooted emotional issues with the twist. I felt cheated.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the ending. I was super surprised that Dara had been dead the entire time and Lauren Oliver did a really good job of placing clues throughout the story that I looked back at with an “Oh, of course! How could I not have realized that Nick had a mental break and thought she was her sister!” reaction. However, Dara was dead….the ENTIRE TIME, and I didn’t know it. That bothered me. I felt like the character I’d connected to and sympathized with was a lie. We never really knew Dara, except for her diary entries, because everything from her POV was Nick pretending to be Dara! That is like telling someone you are going to make them cookies. You turn on the oven, you set the timer, and you light a cookie-scented candle. Sure, it smells like cookies. Heck, it even looks like you are actually baking cookies. But, alas, when that timer goes off and the oven is opened, that person is left cookieless and you are down one friend. 

In the end, I'm torn. I liked the ending, but I also hated it. I was happy with Nick and Parker, but I was also still sad about Dara. (Because, lets be honest, at this point I was still mourning Dara's death, even though it happened several months beforehand!!) This book did some messed up things to my brain, and I think that might have been the point. 

Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes mysteries or psychological teasers (I may have just invented that genre of book). 

Happy Reading,

Mallory