Review: We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

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5 out of 5 Impending Stars

I was not on target to like this book. At first, I thought I was in for disappointment and hatred. The first guy we meet, a jock named Peter, has a very low opinion of his girlfriend’s intelligence. Stereotypical, much? Then there’s the girl who decided to become a slut. Yes. She decided to become a slut. Because of Peter and his dumb bitch girlfriend and a wayward kiss and some slut shaming. If you’re gonna be painted by the brush, just become the brush, right? There was a thing or two in her thoughts that bothered me. Feast your eyes on this little passage below.

Maybe it was judgmental, to think of it as the nerd table, and yet there was no getting around the fact that a school had its factions, and one of those factions happened to consist primarily of intelligent, not very attractive, not particularly socially capable boys, along with a few girls who hadn’t yet learned how to dress or put on makeup or pretend to be dumber than they were.

Yeah. The nerd girl in me raged up at that. I wrote WTF in red pen next to it. It takes a lot for me to write WTF in red pen in a book. That this came from the attractive ‘slut’ in the story didn’t help. Now, I’m throwing out the word slut, and the word slut is in this book a lot, and I hate the word slut. I hate slut-shaming, especially since I discovered only a few years ago how guilty I was of doing this to my fellow ladies, and how internalized my own misogyny was and how society has damaged most women and girls into hating themselves and projecting that hatred onto other women and dragging them down.

As terrible as the above paragraph is… isn’t there some truth in there, and doesn’t it say a lot about society? I’m not saying the words are true, but the perception is. That is society’s view. After I wrote WTF in red pen and tried to soothe my own damaged, inner, ugly, smart nerd girl high school self, I admitted this was more the voice of the character, the voice of the situation and not the author being a dick. A lot of people will not agree with me. I saw a lot of angry reviews accusing him of pushing an agenda, being a misogynist and a mansplainer. I did not sense any of that, myself. But no 2 people ever read the same book. There were moments, like the ones above I mentioned that gave me some pause, I found so much more in this book to love. Because I did love it. It made me think about these things. I didn’t feel the opinions came from the author, but from the society that sees people in black and white. And that is the basis of the book.

This is definitely The Breakfast Club at the end of the world. Just think about that letter that Brian (from the movie – oh man, if you haven’t seen the Breakfast Club, do yourself a favor) writes:

Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was that we did wrong. What we did was wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write this essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us… in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at seven o’clock this morning. We were brainwashed.

But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain……and an athlete… …and a basket case…..a princess……and a criminal…Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.

But the Princess, Anita, (who in a way is also the brain) wants to sing. Eliza, the basketcase (slut) wants to fit in. Peter, the athlete, wants meaning in his life. Andy, the criminal… well, the criminal just wants to make out with the slut, to be honest. And he has some horrific friends. Also, the athlete’s sister, Misery, is dating the criminal’s evil best friend… Bobo. Yeah, I hated every time I read that. Oh, and there’s a gigantic asteroid with the earth’s name on it. Basically, everyone on earth has a 66.6 percent chance of dying.

Despite what goes on at the beginning and my misgivings, and the fact I had problems with the way that Eliza looked at some other girls, or the way she seemed to, there was so much about sex and sexuality in this that I thought was good. Eliza, the basketcase who decided to become a slut, is very sexually active. She has no shame. She likes the power that comes with sex. There is a part of society that tells us a promiscuous girl is somehow damaged, or hates herself. And when we’re in her point of view, it’s not portrayed like that, there wasn’t judgement from the author, and Eliza didn’t hate herself. Or so I felt, and I was very poised to hold anything against him, from the impression of the first few chapters. The stuff from the girl’s point of view was about empowerment. I soon realized that Eliza’s comments were more sarcastic than negative thoughts about other girls. Most of them, the pov girls, at least, didn’t take sexist shit laying down. There was a lot with Misery and her horrible boyfriend… Bob… (cringe) that was kinda lame (in that it was your typical girl-loving-a-badboy-trope, and he treated her really bad), Everyone was pointing this out to her, Misery just didn’t listen. At one point Eliza, Misery and Anita are discussing being desired, and they find themselves not having to say things out loud.

No need to say more. No need to describe all the things you had to do to keep the eyes away. No need to discuss how hard it was to get the attention of the person you wanted attention from without being seen as desperate for everyone’s attention. No need to catalog all the walls you had to put up; not just the walls that protect you from physical danger – though there were plenty of those, too – but the walls you had build around your heart. They said no man was an island, and Anita figured that was probably true. But women were; they had to be. 

There was a lot of philosophical stuff about life and living through the apocalypse. Everyone is handling it differently. Some are overcome with misery or in Anita’s case, sudden elation. Some people slip into apathy and others find reasons to live, and wonder why they hadn’t found these things earlier. My favorite was probably Anita. Her family is a wealthy nightmare. They demand perfection and have her future all mapped out. The only thing she’s ever wanted to do is sing, and the only place she does it is the closet. It’s the only place no one can hear her. And now, with the end of the world coming, she’s had enough. She’s not scared anymore, not of her parents or their restrictions. She’s always played by the rules, and if she’s not going to get to live her full life, she’s going to fully live the last few months she has. She even leaves home. I loved her for it.

There are some love triangles, or quadrangles, and some love things were going on that I predicted, but none of it bothered me. I kinda didn’t see one leg of the triangle at all – I mean, the girl tells the guy she’s not into it. I think it’s the reader’s fault if they keep thinking that leg of the triangle is there.

So when the end of the world is bearing down on you, what else do you do but party? The party at the end of the world is going to be Anita and Andy’s swan song to the world, literally. But of course, obstacles. And there’s your story.

As for diversity, there are some problems. The only black character is just a side guy who disappears pretty early in the book. There is a transboy who is always referred to a “Jess who used to be a girl”. I mean, come on. Why bother having a trans character in the background that you don’t even invest them of their gender, but constantly suggest they are still what they aren’t?! So that’s problematic. Anita is Latinx… I’m sorry I don’t remember what nationality her parents were… but she was learning Spanish from the housekeeper, so I don’t remember if it was mentioned. I just know that she mentioned not being white. I need to be better at making note of those things.

I really loved this. I see this as something I will come back and read again.

 

 

 

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