“The best books, they don’t talk about things you never thought about before. They talk about things you’d always thought about, but that you didn’t think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you’re a little bit less alone in the world. You’re part of this cosmic community of people who’ve thought about this thing, whatever it happens to be.”
We All Looked Up was the May pick for my informal we-actually-just-want-an-excuse-to-meet-up-and-chat book club and I was really looking forward to reading it. I’ve read a lot of young adult sci-fi but We All Looked Up is different – a mix of science fiction and contemporary, one of my favourite genres. I tweeted about We All Looked Up when I started reading it, saying it was The Breakfast Club meets the apocalypse, and I still think that’s true. But our four teenage protagonists are confined to one town rather than one building!
Before the asteroid, four teenagers lived their lives defined by four neat labels: athlete (Peter), the outcast (Eliza), the slacker (Andy), the overachiever (Anita), but now that the world’s changed, they have the opportunity to think about themselves, others and the world around them a little bit more. I love how We All Looked Up is told, in alternating chapters narrated by our protagonists, going back and forth between the present and the immediate past. I used to think of myself as someone who would pick ‘plot’ over ‘characters’ but while others are perhaps a little disappointed in the lack of wider world-building – what’s happening in the rest of the world as Arden is approaching and what governments are doing to stop it – I didn’t feel that that was the point of We All Looked Up. All of the teenagers are flawed and the asteroid is just a device through which we get a modern coming-of-age story.
As with any young adult contemporary novel, we still get our love stories, family arguments, difficult choices and complicated friendships. Peter’s dealing with breaking up with his girlfriend and dreaming about his brief romantic encounter with Eliza – who went from shy to ‘slut’ as a result – and is in competition with Andy, who is amongst the wrong crowd, while Anita is struggling to live up to her parents’ crushing expectations. She takes the opportunity, as it is likely the end of the world after all, to pursue her desire to be a singer. We All Looked Up gets complicated and messy – adolescence often is – as the characters become closer, and I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in their journey.
We All Looked Up is a wonderful, poignant look at what it means to grow up. It makes you wonder whether you have the determination to change the course your life is on, whether you’ll ever have the opportunity to look up.
Published: 26th March 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK & US