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Review: We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

Title: We All Looked Up
Author: Tommy Wallach
Genre: Fiction
ISBN: 978-1-4814-1877-5
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2015
Purchase: Amazon, Simon & Schuster
Bonus: Full-length companion album

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Main Characters: Peter, Eliza, Andy, Anita

Synopsis: One evening, a blue-tinted star appears in the sky. Not “appears” as in something only careful astronomers and amateur star-charters would notice, but “appears” as in everyone on the planet notices at pretty much the same time and won’t stop talking about it. It’s only a couple weeks before NASA tells the world that yes, it might hit us. In fact, there’s a 2/3 chance that it will. What would you do in the months leading up to impending doom? Wallach’s novel, told through multiple perspectives, takes us through the lives of four teens and their friends as they try and figure out what’s worth keeping around… either for the continuation of the world, or the end of it.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “… The best books, they don’t talk about things you never thought about before. They talk about things you’d always thought about, but that you didn’t think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you’re a little bit less alone in the world. You’re part of this cosmic community of people who’ve thought about this thing, whatever it happens to be. I think that’s what happened to you today. This fear, of squandering your future, was already on your mind. I just underlined it for you.”
  • She believed photography to be the greatest of all art forms because it was simultaneously junk food and gourmet cuisine, because you could snap dozens of pictures in a couple hours, then spend dozens of hours perfecting just a couple of them. She loved how what began as an act of the imagination turned into a systematic series of operations, organized and ordered and clear, mixing up the processing bath, developing the negatives, choosing the best shots and expanding them, watching as the images appeared on the blank white paper as if in some kind of backward laundromat– a billowing line of clean sheets slowly developing stains, then hung up until those stains were fixed forever. And then there was the setting, crepuscular and shadowy, everything about it perfectly calibrated for creativity, from the sultry red glow of the darkroom lights to the still and shallow pool in which her prints rested like dead leaves on the surface of a pond…
  • … “Anita, do you every worry that you’re wasting your life?”
    … “I think everybody does,” Anita said. “But we’re only eighteen. You can’t have wasted your life at eighteen. We haven’t even lived our lives yet.”
    “But you have to decide, you know? It’s like that poem with the road in the woods. You don’t want to end up running down the wrong road, because you’ll probably never get back to that place again. The place where the road splits, I mean.”
    “Actually, the point of that poem is that it doesn’t really matter which road you pick.”
  • After it was over, Peter sat on the couch and let his mom hold him. His dad kept changing the channels on the TV, hoping to find someone able to contradict some parts of the president’s speech. Both of them were crying, his mom steady as a stream, his dad like an imperfectly sealed pipe– just a slow drip around the edges. Peter loved his parents, but right then he would’ve given anything to get away from them. Their anxiety burned away all the oxygen in the room; his own feelings couldn’t breathe. He was only eighteen! There were so many things he hadn’t experienced yet– world travel, bungee jumping, sushi. And what the hell had he been waiting for? Why had he assumed time was some sort of infinite resource? Now the hourglass had busted open, and what he’d always assumed was just a bunch of sand turned out to be a million tiny diamonds.

Review: This book was an easy sell. I was intrigued by the cover, first of all, and then I flipped it open to read the blurb. I didn’t even read the first part, but my eyes were immediately drawn to: “They said the asteroid would be here in two months.” That was all I needed. Bam. Sold.

I’m going to throw it back a bit here, but do any of you remember Animorphs? You know, that series about the kids that were able to turn into animals to save the world from the invading aliens? Anyway, that’s one of my favorite series of all time, and its author, K.A. Applegate, has continued to write books that blow my mind. Shortly after Animorphs ended, she released a series called Remnants. It didn’t quite have the longevity of Animorphs, but the first book in the series began with a similar premise to We All Looked Up: the end of the world. An asteroid impact. The rest of Remnants involves the 100 or so people chosen to escape the planet on a dilapidated space shuttle and their adventures once cryostatis wakes them up 500 years later, which is pretty divergent from WALU, but anyway. The point is that Remnants #1 is absolutely one of my all-time favorite books (within the top 10) and it’s a brilliant reflection on human nature.

Which is to say, that human nature is unpredictable. There is no “default” setting for human nature. What you assume humans are going to do… well, they won’t. Some will. Others will exist completely outside the realm of plausibility.

WALU follows the story of four interconnected teens and their lives leading up to the Big Impact. The book begins with Peter, already having an existential crisis before the asteroid even appears in the night sky; obviously, learning that there’s a 66% chance that humanity will be wiped out just like the dinosaurs doesn’t do much to help him.

Anita is perfect. She gets perfect grades, has a perfect family, always looks perfect. But she’s tired of being perfect. She gets a C on a test for the first time ever, just to see how her parents will react. Spoiler: it’s not good.

Eliza’s home life sucks, so she’s taken to meeting boys at clubs and sleeping with them, just so she can feel something. To try and make someone care. But ultimately, no one seems to.

Andy is torn between loyalty to the guy who has always been his best friend, and the knowledge that his best friend is … well, not a good person. Andy wants to help Bobo, but might soon realize that Bobo is either beyond help or just not worth saving…

One of my favorite aspects of the book was the descriptions of what other people were doing. The randoms. The people you’ve never met and undoubtedly never will. Strangers in cities, strangers on islands, strangers in penthouses, and strangers on the street. Some, like Peter’s parents in the quote above, can’t find it in themselves to do anything but cry. They fall into the pit of depression, of hopelessness, of “what’s the point,” and there’s no one who can help them climb back out. Others decide it’s finally their chance to do whatever the hell they want; what’s a two-week jail stay in the long run? It’s all going to burn anyway. Others, though, others spread love: tell their loved ones they love them, make an effort to DO those last things on their bucket lists, find the money or the excuses to visit those beautiful places they’ve only dreamed about.

Not that any of those is a right or wrong response, really, which is sort of the point. You can’t predict how you’ll react. Honestly. You can ponder it day and night for the next 50 years but until it actually happens to you, you just don’t know.

Spoiler: the book ends before the meteor hits. Or doesn’t hit. I was slightly disappointed at first, because come on that’s the best part– but then I realized that the moral of the story is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is the person you are leading up to that moment. You can die in jail, or you can spend the next seventy years in jail. Or you can fill your life with light and love and go out surrounded by the people you care about the most… or if the world doesn’t end, wake up to a new world surrounded by the people you love.

Which one sounds better to you?

Rating: ★★★★½

P.S. The author is also a great musician, and he wrote an album to go along with the book. Check it out on bandcamp! You can download it for $5, or if you really love it, get yourself the vinyl for $20. Why not? After all, life is short.

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