Four teens in Seattle are defined by the labels that everyone, including themselves, applies to them: Peter the perfect athlete, Eliza the slut, Andy the slacker, and Anita the straight A nerd.
But then, with a blue sparkle in the night sky, everything changes.
I approached this book with a great deal of scepticism and low expectations. The synopsis seemed a bit much: bad teenage drama, love triangles, stereotypes, and an apocalyptic asteroid hitting the earth. Seriously. And, as usual, I was totally wrong.
The story is told from four POVs, so I was sure I would never keep everything straight. (It is easy to confuse me). Well, wrong again. The novel is incredibly well written; the four points of view has overlap enough to keep the story flowing, but not enough to be repetitive or boring. Because each character is so different, they are easy to keep straight. Author Tommy Wallach has written four very distinct individuals.
The characters move from being the typical high school senior stereotypes to living, breathing teens, with aspirations and disappointments and humanity. Wallach takes the All-American boy Peter and gives him depth and purpose. While he is still a bit goody-goody for my taste, Peter changes from the cardboard cut-out doing what is expected, to a young man with drive and purpose, with the recognition that not all victories are equal.
Eliza moves from a lost girl with few friends, sleeping with different boys to fulfill an unfairly applied label (she decides to embrace it, rather than hide from it), to someone looking to connect with her peers, and document the last days of earth them.
Andy realizes that his plan to spend his life coasting and doing as little as possible is not what he actually wants. And Anita finally finds the courage to break from her over controlling parents, and follow her dreams. It may not make a difference in the end, but she needs to know she tried.
In short, they each make the choice of how they want to live, when faced with the realization that their time on earth is not only limited, but they know when it will end. This book is not actually about the end of the world, however, it is about humanity in all its endless varieties. Will life be a Pyrrhic victory? What truly matters?
The novel is thought-provoking and honest, alarming, reflective and insightful. Wallach presents and examines many different philosophies without judgement, but lets the characters and reader explore the ideas organically. The characters make good decisions and bad decisions, in short, they are fairly typical teens. Unlike in many YA novels, the parents are dealt with realistically, although they are on the fringes of the story. The ending is absolutely perfect; as with life, there are loose ends that don’t always get tied.
The story deals with some tough scenarios including sex, drugs, violence, and death. It is definitely a YA book, but the themes are quite mature.
We All Looked Up was published March 24th 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.