Review: We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

We All Looked UpThis book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from B&

“They always say that high school is the best time of your life.

Peter, the star basketball player at his school, is worried “they” might actually be right. Meanwhile Eliza can’t wait to escape Seattle—and her reputation—and perfect-on-paper Anita wonders if admission to Princeton is worth the price of abandoning her real dreams. Andy, for his part, doesn’t understand all the fuss about college and career—the future can wait.

Or can it? Because it turns out the future is hurtling through space with the potential to wipe out life on Earth. As these four seniors—along with the rest of the planet—wait to see what damage an asteroid will cause, they must abandon all thoughts of the future and decide how they’re going to spend what remains of the present.”

If you’re looking for a disaster book, look elsewhere.  This book’s focus is on the psychological effects of an oncoming apocalypse… or at least, of a possible one.  That’s the beauty of this story–nothing is certain.  The set-up here is that the asteroid has a 66.6% chance of hitting the earth (and I see what you did there with that number, Wallach), so not only are the characters dealing with their own mortality, they have to deal with the fact that their actions during the lead-up to the event could carry consequences that they’ll then be forced to confront.

For these four teens, this means trying to parse their own motivations for what they ultimately decide to do.  And the big question is this: are their choices due to their sincere desires, or are they whims prompted by the imminent possibility of death?  More, are they doing things because there’s a better than even chance that they won’t have to deal with the long-term effects of their actions?  But along with that, these kids are also finding out what they really value in life.  It’s not just what you choose to do or why, but what it means to you deep inside.

Wallach gives us different personalities to follow, and this shows a pretty wide slice of human behavior.  It’s not just the main characters that offer these glimpses, either.  Since they all move in different social groups, readers get that cross-section of both high-school society and regular society.  The interesting parts come when those cliques come into contact, sometimes gently and sometimes in a hard collision.

What this book reminded me of most was Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin.  That novel also dealt with a world-ending event, but that one was a certainty and took place over several decades to an ending at an uncertain time.  Here, the compressed time frame (a scant two months leading to a definite date) gives the narrative an immediacy that couldn’t otherwise be achieved.

This book is quite thought-provoking and carries more weight than many teen books, even ones that deal with big issues like sexual assault and the consequences of drugs.  This one cuts to the very heart of everything we fear–an end to everything, both in our personal world and the world at large–and I’m sure some will find it too slow and broody for their tastes.  I highly encourage you to read it, though.  Get to the end and look back at it, and you’ll see what a roller coaster ride of insights and action you just experienced.

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