I must confess, I read this book because I liked the cover. I felt hopeless in my search to find a book worth my time — so I settled on the age old shallow decision maker — external aesthetic appeal. There was something decidedly unpretentious about the small lettering and the large amount of matte blackness, as if to say the book didn’t need big flashy lettering or pictures of teenagers holding hands to grab my attention. The design paid me the respect of an elegant cover, convincing me it was the exquisite writing that would make me love it. Ok, so maybe Wallach’s writing isn’t exquisite but my instincts weren’t totally off when I chose We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach, which is still available in its beautiful hard cover binding due to its semi-recent march 2015 release.
The book is Mr. Wallach’s debut novel, a contemporary sci-fi that forces you to ask yourself, what would you do if you had two months left to live? The novel follows a group of teenagers, at first far from connected, who switch off narrating, telling their viewpoints of the events leading up to the possible destruction of planet earth, not so conveniently due to a giant blue asteroid named Ardor. First off, I want to make it clear that this novel is by no means perfect. The writing is a little shaky and there is some questionable character development. But that’s not what I took away from this novel. What I took away was the incredible authenticity of the writer’s voice. I could feel his earnestness through the characters, feel his genuine attempt to make the genre’s audience, often self-absorbed teenagers, take a step back and look at the bigger picture, question what their place is in life and how much control they have over who they become.
In the first chapter of the novel one of the protagonists, a popular baseball star named Peter gets asked by his history teacher during a discussion about Pyrrhic victories (a victory that has been achieved through the infliction of so much loss that it’s tantamount to failure), “What about if you were a big sports star, and you made loads of money, and you bought big houses and you drove fast cars, but when your time in the limelight was over, you ended up unhappy because you didn’t know what the point of your life had been? Would that be a Pyrrhic victory?” This question forces Peter to look more objectively at the direction his life is taking and evaluate the game that Peter claims is the only thing he’s good at — and then a time stamp gets placed on everyone’s life. Once the asteroid is discovered, this questions takes on a whole new meaning. When there’s no future, no college and no growing old, how do you decide to live? Each of the characters reacts to this questions in a different way.
The multiple perspectives enables the reader to connect with each character separately and for different reasons. In the end, you are able to understand and move beyond the stereotypes these characters are intentionally labeled with at the start of the novel: slut, athlete, slacker and overachiever. The presence of Ardor in no way overpowers the human stories. It simply acts as a catalyst, allowing us to see these characters under duress of an impossible situation, making for a read that not only forces the characters to question themselves. Ardor’s impending annihiliation of life on earth asks you to question yourself.
Note: At the end of the novel I discovered that the author, Tommy Wallach, is an accomplished musician with three albums under his belt. His latest album, not so coincidentally titled, We All Looked Up: The Album, was timed with the publication of his novel and released in March 2015. The album adds another layer to the book, a beautiful indie soundtrack that narrates the struggles that the characters face. I highly recommend listening to it, whether or not you choose to read the book.
You can listen here: