The Book Owl: We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach (4/5 stars)

Colleen Kelly

It’s nearly summer vacation, and this book has me in the mood for it. “We All Looked Up” is Wallach’s debut Young Adult Contemporary novel centering around a group of teenagers concerned about what comes next after high school. That, and a massive asteroid named Ardor, which has a 66.6% chance of hitting Earth in two months. Easy-peasy. We follow four different perspectives through Peter, Eliza, Anita and Andy as they countdown to the possible end of the world when their young lives are supposed to be beginning.

The protagonists are the embodiments of high school stereotypes -a jock, artist, nerd and slacker, respectively- but prove to be much more three-dimensional when they are forced to take a long, uncomfortable look at themselves as the clock counts down. They aren’t children, so they can appreciate the weightiness of their situation, but they aren’t adults yet either, and haven’t had the time experience much of life. And that’s part of why this novel is so exceptionally sad, that these teens are more than likely going to have their futures taken away from them and they are powerless to stop it. But at the same time, it’s interesting to see the choices they each make in the wake of accepting their mortality. Not all of them necessarily liked where their futures were heading and decide to exert whatever control they can now. These are four very flawed human beings, and we see them each crack wide open, which I loved, but I didn’t care about all of them either. It would be dull to feel for everyone and have no conflict as a reader, but Peter’s entire story left me apathetic. I didn’t like or hate him, there was just too severe of a disconnect for me.

The progression of society in this story was eerily believable. The President chooses to be honest and acknowledge the likelihood of this being the end, and the country takes its time to let that truly sink it. It’s a slow burn watching society unhinge and characters unravel, and it is so fascinating watching the denial and blank shock give way to hysteria and anarchy as times is running out. This novel feels more like a sociological exploration and character study than the cliched end of the world story I was anticipating. It’s like an apocalyptic, more broadly scoped “Breakfast Club”, if anything.

This isn’t anyone’s first time reading a story pondering Life’s Great Questions, but it is a fresh, well-written story with a cool premise. Not every character’s revelations will speak to you, but a majority of them definitely will. This isn’t a sappy contemporary about life and love, nor is it an action-packed thrill ride about saving the world. At its core, this novel is about hope, and how we keep it alive. “We All Looked Up” forces you to examine your life and your choices, and asks you this: In the wake of Armageddon, are you happy with yourself?

Verdict: 4/5 stars