This book is the best kind of contemporary- totally enjoyable, beautifully written and the exactly-right blend of real and surreal. Thus, it gets five stars, mostly because I really couldn’t find enough faults in it to justify anything else. ((I’m picky like that) I hope that you enjoy my review!
But then we all looked up and everything changed.
They said it 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.
Technically, We All Looked Up is an apocalypse story- or rather, an almost-apocalypse story. It follows the lives of four teenagers, and inevitably the lives of those around them, in the chaos following the announcement that an asteroid is about to hit the earth. This means that you have all the contemporary elements of relationships and romance and happiness (and fine, sadness too) as well as the drama and less-believable elements that become plausible on the brink of extermination.
I really enjoyed the style of this book. The chapters are backwards, with each one composed of a segment from each character, counting down from ten. The narrative voices of Eliza, Anita, Peter and Andy. The plot is how the increasing chaos and the way that they change (in themselves and how they see the world) are inextricably linked. And it is very exciting, with lots of driving around, but also interesting, attention grabbing, to read about. I just found the way the characters interacted amazing.
There are those really meaningful books with beautiful writing, like Sarah Crossans, or Holly Bodgers free verse. But contemporaries tend to be known for the snappy dialogue, not the amazing writing. Yet again We All Looked Up blows the genre apart with phrases like
“They’d always inhabited different dimensions of the social universe, seeing each other not quite as people, but as blurry people-shaped shadows floating around the periphery of classrooms and dances and parties.”
“Against an eggplant-purple backdrop shone a single bright star, blue as a sapphire, like a fleck of afternoon someone had forgotten to wipe away”
We All Looked Up, like all the best books, “talks about things you’ve always thought about, but that you didn’t think anyone else had thought about” There is just so much good stuff in here, about how women have to be islands and how there are relationships that you “sacrifice on the altar of delusion”. It hits home, because I’m a high school student and that’s how it is being a teenager sometimes- everything matters, but nothing matters, all at once, and it doesn’t matter how you’re seen, but that is the most important thing in the world. But the themes aren’t pushed, they just are. And that could be the best thing of all.
Of course. Of course not.
The characters go through some experiences that I can identify with and some that I can’t. Unlike some cases of beautiful writing though, I always felt fully connected, fully present. Anita’s fear of bad grades but also pleasure in them I can understand, but I also understand why Andy is a slacker, even though I’m not like him in the least. The protests at authoritarian teachers as well as the joy at good ones, or outside of school, the fear of being caught- whatever happened just fell into place. In some ways the plot isn’t ‘real’. (that is the cost of fiction) But the panic and the overarching fear of not mattering, the way disaster brings out the best and worst of people that was totally real, totally believable, even though the prison parties were not.
With unique characters and excellent writing and a lot of enjoyment, but always in a way that immerses you in the story, We All Looked Up is one of the best books I’ve read this year.
So have you read this? How would you cope with the apocalypse (do you have your canned food and party time ready)? Do you find that beautiful writing *sometimes* eclipses character development? Tell me in the comments!