Thursday, April 9, 2015

Final Review Preview

On Friday, April 10th, from 9:30 - 11:30 am, we're hosting our semiannual materials review. There will be books to look at, giveaways to enjoy, and a panel of Bear Pond staff, plus our rep from Candlewick Publishing, talking about particular Titles Of Note. The focus will be on middle grade and YA fiction. We know from our fall review that there is not enough time for everything everyone wants to say. . . so here is our final preparatory blog post to start the conversation, from Helen. 

A final, super-quick review before the Big Review Day (ie. tomorrow) - this one posted early because I realized that what I had to say about the book makes more sense with links.

So. We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach.

Don't read the publisher's blurb.

My apologies to whoever wrote that description, possibly the author himself (who I'm going to say nice things about soon), but it sounds hokey and does not at all capture the strengths of this book:

"Before Ardor we let ourselves be defined by labels - the Athlete, the Slut, the Slacker, the Overachiever. But then we all looked up. And everything changed. They said the asteroid would be here in two months. That gave us two months to leave our labels behind. Two months to become something bigger, something that would last even after the end. Two months to really live."


What you should really read is what the author has to say in his own words. I recommend browsing the short pieces Wallach has published elsewhere (linked here) to put you in the appropriate mood for tackling his debut novel.

Wallach is funny. He's sharply funny and has the perfect perspective to bring to a (let's face it) depressing book about the possible end of civilization as witnessed by a group of teenagers who  already suffered angst before any asteroid appeared. He has also written a book that is clearly YA literature. It's not an adult book with teenage characters grafted in, or a middle grade book bumped up a category for "mature topics". We All Looked Up is a smart and thoughtful and thoroughly, satisfyingly, young adult book.

If you have any old Pearl Jam CDs hanging around, and are of an age to have listened to those as a teen, I recommend dusting them off. You'll want to listen to them again. It won't feel like a cliche, I promise.

I whined a bit when I drew this book as part of my Materials Review stack. That blurb - you can tell, it bugs me still. But the author's letter at the start of our reviewer's copy changed my mind. I thought, "Well, if I'm going to read a book about an asteroid hitting Earth, this is the guy I'd like to have telling the story."

For example, I think every debut author should include a list of ideas that didn't work:

"I wrote my first novel during my freshman year in college. It was a Douglas Adams-inspired work of science fiction about sending all of Earth's ugliest people to another planet. It did not sell. I know: shocking. Since then I've written a book about a family breakdown told in the form of a grad school application; a book about a personal assistant to a B-list movie star, whom she accidentally kills. . . " [a long list follows here] ". . Then, like a bolt out of some color other than blue (because good writing is about avoiding cliches!) an idea came to me."

And voila several years later, We All Looked Up.

The important part: Tommy Wallach is a really good writer. He'll probably be an even better writer in his next book. And his next. And maybe he'll return some day to that B-list movie star book because I really want to read that one.

Want to learn more about exciting YA and Middle Grade fiction for 2015? Come to the Bear Pond Books Children's Room at 9:30 am Friday, April 10th. 

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