If I hadn’t read Ben H. Winter’s The Last Policeman trilogy this year, I might have enjoyed We All Looked Up a lot more than I did.
Both novels start from a similar point — an asteroid is bearing down on Earth, ready to wipe out life as we know it. But where Winters’ trilogy centered on a single character and gave us an extended view of how society might break down under the threat of imminent chaos and destruction, Tommy Wallach’s novel details only a few months of the final days and centers on four teenagers whose lives intersect during the final days of our planet.
Before the news that an asteroid is hurtling toward our planet, our four teenagers are presented as your standard cliches — the driven student, the girl with the bad reputation, the stoner guy and the jock. Wallach introduces us to each of them before the idea of the asteroid is brought front and center and shows us how each person got their reputation and self-image and whether or not its fully applicable to the person. (In most cases, there’s a hint of truth to it, but things have been blown out of proportion).
Then news of the asteroid shows up and everything changes. The driven student suddenly finds that all the sacrifices she made for the future her parents wanted for her have become less important since in all likelihood she won’t live to fulfill them. One of the other character makes a bet with his friend that he’ll sleep with the girl with the bad reputation before the world ends. There are some interesting observations about how society would collapse in the face of imminent destruction (one interesting observation is how very few people would actually use calculus with or without global destruction looming large). But the closer we get to the end of the world, the less interested I became in the characters as a whole. Once each character has shed his or her definition, it doesn’t feel like anything interesting or compelling really happens to them.
It leads to me walking away from the book a bit less enthusiastic about it than I was initially.