For the first time in my history of blogging, I have not only read an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy), but I have finished it before the official release date! Go me!
Getting this book was a surprise. I remember asking Simon & Schuster for a copy, but I never heard anything back. So imagine my surprise when a parcel from S&S arrived with a fresh new book in it just for me!
I’ve read my fair share of apocalyptic fiction: Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner. But all of it took place in some not-too-distant future that was close enough to be familiar but not so close that we would feel worried about our present. We All Looked Up was different. It was set in the here and now, in Seattle. No futuristic technology or a world gone mad, just our society and what Wallach believes would happen if we were all told that an asteroid named Ardor had a 66.6% chance of wiping out all life on Earth.
We All Looked Up follows the story of a bunch of high school kids: Andy, Anita, Eliza, and Peter. We get the story from each of their perspectives in turn. I thoroughly enjoyed the structure of this book. There was actually overlap between each of the perspectives. What do I mean by that? Well, at the beginning of at least 3/4 of each change in perspective, we get a bit of repetition. The story rewinds a bit to where our new POV character first leaves the group and starts on their own mini-journey. It grounds us, and also lets us get into that character’s head regarding the preceding event. Have I explained that properly?
I did find myself skipping sentences and sometimes paragraphs, but only because I was all but devouring this book and re-reading the same dialogue and scene setting would have slowed me down. I was never bored. Wallach handles repetition brilliantly.
Everything about this book flows naturally: from the progression from a normal day in school to the last few hours before Ardor may or may not hit, to character development, to how the relationships between these characters develop. This is no mean feat, given the extraordinary nature of the novel. Everything Wallach proposes seems so plausible that it’s actually a little scary. I absolutely believe that, if we were told that the world was going to end, the government would install a police state simply because Wallach made it so convincing. Whether Wallach just understands human nature or is a master storyteller, I don’t know. But I don’t think it matters.
The language in this book is gorgeous. The descriptions are poetic, but not so poetic as to jar the reader. But they are succinct. No meandering paragraphs describing a garden or something like that. Just a sentence or two that blow your mind. Admittedly, I was shaken when, in the first few pages, Wallach has one of his characters describe his girlfriend’s hair like a basketball jersey. Turns out it was just characterisation (on behalf of the POV character) gone bad, but it took me a few chapters to forgive Wallach for that.
We All Looked Up makes you question so many things. Am I living up to my full potential? Am I capable of violence? What would I do in my final weeks on Earth? Do I believe in life after death? And about a million more soul-searching questions. But, funnily enough, Wallach covers about 75% of these questions through his characters. You see almost every single perceivable reaction to the end of the world, and every single one of them is human, whether it’s a great reaction or a despicable one, or some kind of mixture of the two. Wallach somehow just gets humanity.
I love the ambiguity of the ending, but also the finality of the climax that happens half a chapter before. It felt like Wallach was simultaneously telling us that life doesn’t matter and that each individual life is precious. For a debut novel, this one just knocked it out of the park.
★★ ★★ 1/2
I had to take half a star off for that terrible “basketball jersey” simile. It may seem petty, but that damned comparison still haunts me!