Before Takeoff

This is an evening like any other in the Atlanta airport. Sixteen-year-old James and eighteen-year-old Michelle are both on a layover when their paths cross. They are drawn to something nobody else seems to notice: “a blinking green light that will soon cause all hell to break loose.” While James is hesitant to do anything, an impulsive Michelle reaches her hand toward it. When she realizes that “it’s not just a light, but a button,” she presses down.  

Impossible events begin almost immediately. One end of the airport jumps to ninety degrees while snow falls at the other. Explosions, tornados, and rushing rivers spring out of nowhere. To make matters worse, nobody can locate an exit, glass windows refuse to break, cell phone calls aren’t going through, and anytime someone tries to text “something about the events at the airport, [their] words turn into a string of emojis” that are indecipherable.  

As James and Michelle search for their families inside the airport, the mayhem keeps getting worse, and people are quick to form groups and turn on one another. Michelle realizes that she caused this—that the green button must be responsible for this madness—and that she needs to destroy it before it’s too late. 

Before Takeoff is told in omniscient third person, taking the reader inside the minds of James, Michelle, and countless people throughout the airport. Occasionally, the story will make references to things that will happen after the narrative is over. These tactics allow for a better understanding of the grand scope of this situation, as readers are privy to knowledge and events that the main characters are not. The narrative occasionally makes remarks that are informal and playful, at one point describing a series of fights that break out as a “Hunger Games-esque/Battle Royale fiasco.” This is a way of demonstrating an awareness of the absurdity of the plot and inviting the reader to just go along with it.  

Unfortunately, Before Takeoff ‘s perspective makes it difficult for the reader to get an intimate understanding of James and Michelle. There are so many glimpses into the heads of so many people that it becomes easy to feel detached from the two main characters. Readers may find it difficult to care about them. In addition, as their ordeal stretches on, the plot drags because readers are not given much incentive to be invested in the characters or the outcome. 

From the start, readers know that James and Michelle will reunite with their families and successfully put an end to what is going on. Their romantic connection is also predictable. The narrative tries to make a point about human nature. Particularly, it focuses on how quick people are to grow hostile towards each other in chaotic situations, how they “succumb to their biases . . . blame the people they know the least about.” However, it fails to set itself apart in any way from countless other stories that have made comments about the same phenomena. Unfortunately, Before Takeoff’s enticing premise falls flat. Since the characters are hard to care for and the storyline is so predictable, the book is not worth reading unless the reader is an avid fan of fantastical survival stories. While the writing is often witty, getting through the whole story ultimately feels like a chore.  

Sexual Content 

  • Michelle remembers an old boyfriend and how they snuck around “finding places to make out, finding new places to press their bodies together.” 
  • During a conversation with James about love, Michelle muses, “‘I’d be content with something simpler than love… A perfect sexual relationship, sure.’” 
  • James has not cried in a long time, but  “he came close a few times during those weeks when [a classmate] refused to talk to him after they’d hooked up.” Later, the book implies that they did not have sex, as James lists it as something he would like to do before he dies. 
  • Michelle and James enter an airport shop to get dry clothes to change into. Michelle tells James not to look, and “reaches back to unclip her bra right as James forces himself to stare at a wall.” 
  • Michelle tells James,‘“the boy’s I’ve been with . . . forget gradients of sexuality; we’re talking intimacy here, lie-in-the-dark-and-talk-about-deep-shit intimacy—they’ve all asked some sort of question related to numbers. . . How many other times did you do this.” James reiterates that “sex or making out or whatever” shouldn’t be quantified by how many people you’ve done those things with. 
  • James and Michelle kiss passionately in a closet. There is a skip in time and the two are described as still being in the closet and “still clothed and mostly chaste . . . closely attuned to the joys of the physical.” 
  • An airline employee named Rosa remembers going to a frat party where guys were “walking around shirtless, thinking that the display alone would get them laid.” 
  • James and Michelle dance at one point, and “it doesn’t take long for sex to enter [their] minds.” Their bodies are pressed together and James wonders if Michelle “can feel him start to harden.” 
  • While dancing, Michelle “can feel [James’] erection any time their hips meet. Her hand dips below the waistband of his jeans.” A new commotion interrupts them before they can go further. 
  • A woman reminisces over a lost love, and how “every now and then, during, sex, she’ll still picture [his] face instead of her husband’s.”  

Violence 

  • Two men have a confrontation, and a man named Taha attempts to diffuse the situation. When one man attempts to hit the other, Taha instead “catches the blow directly on the nose, and that sound carries towards James, as does the sound of the back of Taha’s head when it lands against the floor. . . There’s a splatter of blood on the tile.” This leaves Taha unconscious. This whole altercation takes place over two pages. 
  • There are two explosions of ambiguous cause. The first one “ripples the air and shakes the walls, sending several people to the ground.” The second is described as “knocking a few more things to the ground, handing out another dozen concussions or so.” 
  • James and his family lived in Humboldt Park “when the shootings were bad.”  
  • The narrative states that in Concourse A, “A Hunger Games-esque/Battle Royale fiasco has broken out, and since we have weak constitutions . . . we shall pass over the events that take place there for the remainder of this narration.” 
  • A man named Joseph accuses Taha of knowing something about what’s going on at the airport. Joseph intimidates him and jabs a finger at his chest. Before it makes contact, “Taha has grabbed it with one hand and Joseph’s wrist with his other hand, then twisted so that Joseph’s arm is behind his back and his finger is some slight pressure away from breaking.” Taha lets Joseph go after insisting he has no right to accuse him of anything. 
  • An airline employee unsuccessfully attempts to break through a window to escape, swinging a chair at it and punching it in frustration. The narrative notes a stream of blood leaking “from between his clenched knuckles, his skin cracked from the efforts to break free.” 
  • A vaguely described curse passes through the airport causing many people to “merely stop breathing, quietly passing from this life without a bang or a whimper.” 
  • During a commotion, “fistfights [start] to merge, an almost cartoon-like cloud of punches and kicks and curses.” 
  • It is stated at one point that “a handful of other people die in the unspoken battles of the A gates” due to the violence that has broken out there. 
  • People are trampled in stampedes. At one point, people who are unable to get out of the way are “[bracing] themselves for uncaring boots. They curl up in balls and protect their heads.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • James recalls that he often gets stuck looking at mirrors “in the midst of anxiety-ridden afternoons and drug-addled nights.” 
  • “Two white twentysomethings named Brad and Chad, buzzing off their earlier choice to pair shots of Jameson with twenty ounce beers” run around the airport during the chaos. 
  • “The smell of filth and alcohol” is described as coming from stranded passengers. 
  • At one point, a couple of people are noted to be smoking cigars. 
  • James and Michelle get drunk on unspecified alcoholic beverages during a salsa party that breaks out. 

Language 

  • Profanity is used rather frequently, both in the narration and dialogue.  Profanity includes ass, asshole, fuck, shit, bullshit, damn, and goddamn.  
  • Michelle often uses the French swear word “putain,” which translates to whore, bitch, and slut. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual 

  • James recalls being pulled over for not using a blinker and how the cop made him and his friend get out of the car and “only because he found nothing else, and they deferred to him like he was God, did they get back in.” 
  • A woman was “begging the God she stopped believing in when she was fourteen that she’ll see her kids again.” 
  • James thinks about God and going to church with his friend Marcus. James at one point “believed in God even though he never saw evidence of Him, other than what the preacher at church would say.”  
  • A congregation of people gather on their knees, “whispering their prayers in a dozen languages.” 

We All Looked Up

Ardor, a newfound asteroid, is barreling towards the earth—coming closer and closer each day. The threat of Ardor becomes clear as it is determined to have the capability to wipe out the entirety of civilization. Suddenly the simple lives of four teens doesn’t seem so cut and dry anymore. Given a few weeks left to live, the four find themselves contemplating life and what they want out of it.

Andy, Anita, Eliza, and Peter—four unsuspecting students at the same high school – find themselves intertwined in the lives of each other when an asteroid threatens to demolish the earth. Peter finds himself questioning if all there is to life is sports and the prospect of growing old. Andy has never cared about anyone or anything other than his best friend Bobo, but suddenly that changes when Anita comes into his life. Since the day she was born, Anita has only ever known the pressure to go to Princeton and fulfill the investment that her family has made in her. And Eliza finds art to be more reliable and kinder than any friend has proven to be. In the past, the four have passed each other in the hallway and only made off-handed comments to one another when no one is around. They have carried on with their lives and kept to their social crowds . . . until an asteroid threatens their planet.

Anita runs away from the restrictions of her family and becomes roommates with Andy as they pursue a music career and hope to perform at the end of the world concert. Peter has found the courage to declare his love for Eliza, even though they have an exceptionally bad history. Andy has no idea what he wants, but he knows that his best friend Bobo is acting crueler than usual. And Eliza begins photographing the pre-apocalyptic version of Seattle and posting it on Tumblr which quickly earns her more fame than she would like.

As the asteroid gets closer, the four go from strangers to friends. They confide in each other, plan an end of the world party, and defend Peter’s sister from her boyfriend and a drug dealer. They even break a bunch of teenagers out of a juvenile detention center. Four distinctly different characters come together and showcase that sometimes there is a comfort that comes from being seen by those you never thought were looking in the first place.

We All Looked Up gives the reader a unique glimpse into the thoughts of teenagers who grapple with the threat of the end of the world. Overall, the development of the characters is strong. But the societal labels put on the four main characters can come off a bit cliché, especially with the novel being set in high school. Each chapter alternates between Peter’s, Anita’s, Andy’s, and Eliza’s point of view, which allows the reader to get a glimpse into the inner thoughts of each character. While the actions of some of the characters are not exactly likable, they are entirely relatable. Coming from a teenager’s vantage point, it is easy to understand their reactions and missteps add a sense of realness to the story that elevates it for the reader.

The plot examines adult topics such as toxic relationships, drug and alcohol use, mental illness, self-harm, and gang-related violence. In addition, the scenes pertaining to violence are graphic and may disturb sensitive readers. If you’re looking for a story with a happy ending, potentially forego reading We All Looked Up due to the serious topics and melancholy conclusion. However, We All Looked Up is a good read for those who like to contemplate life’s what-ifs. For each trial the characters face, readers are reminded of the fact that everyone is just trying their best at life. People work constantly to exceed and yet can still fall short, but there is beauty in the fact that you can get up and try again. We All Looked Up reminds us that there is no better time than the present to start making the most of every day we have because no one knows exactly how many more precious days they have left to live.

Sexual Content

  • Eliza’s dad refers to her best friend Madeline as “a stripper dressed up as a prostitute for Halloween.”
  • Bobo (Andy’s best friend and Misery’s boyfriend) makes a bet with Andy. Andy must lose his virginity to Eliza before Ardor hits, or he has to pay Bobo $1,000. Andy says, “Come on, it’s inevitable. You’re the biggest virgin at Hamilton, and she’s the biggest slut. You’re just working the odds.”
  • Eliza recounts making out with Peter in the art room and being caught. “He sat her down on the table, still kissing her, his tongue rough in her mouth, and his hands were making their way up her shirt when the lights flickered on. A skinny blond girl stood between the black curtains in the doorway, her mouth agape, like some cartoon character expressing shock.”
  • Eliza brings a guy home with her from the bar, and it is alluded to that they have sex. “It took her fifteen minutes in front of the bathroom mirror to scrape away the telltale signs of an alcohol fueled one-night stand.”
  • After being caught making out with Peter, Eliza goes to school and sees that the word “S-L-U-T” painted on her locker. “By the time Eliza got to school the next morning, someone had already spray-painted her locker, one huge black word with four capital letters: S-L-U-T.”
  • Eliza mentions losing her virginity. “In reality, she’d never had a serious boyfriend, and she’d lost her virginity practically by accident at a summer camp for blossoming artists, to a pale Goth boy who only painted wilted flowers.”
  • Anita and Andy have sex before they perform at the concert. “‘I don’t want to die a virgin,’ Anita said. She immediately covered her face with her hands. ‘I know it’s crazy to say that right now, with everything that’s happened, but it’s the truth.’ She straightened up, took a deep breath, and looked him straight in the eye. ‘I like you. If you’re into it, then I’m into it.’”
  • Peter and Eliza have sex at the release party at the detention center. “Misery was one. Hopefully, she’d gotten a ride home. He had no idea what he’d say to his parents if he had to show up without her. Sorry, but I got distracted having sex with this girl I cheated on Stacey with last year. You’re going to love her.”
  • Eliza and Andy drunkenly kiss and begin to remove each other’s clothing. They proceed to almost have sex before Anita walks in and Eliza runs out of the room. “But as Eliza felt his hand drop down between her legs, as she unconsciously ground against him with her hips, she felt the wrongness of what she was doing crash like an asteroid against the plant-size need to connect with someone, with anyone, and she pushed him off her with a fury that she knew he wouldn’t understand.”
  • Another inmate asks Eliza if she would sleep with him. “You don’t know me, but I’m a really nice person. And I think you’re absolutely beautiful. If you tell me to go, I’ll go. But, I’d love to hook up with you, and because it’s the end of the world and we’re stuck here, I figured I might as well ask.”

Violence

  • Andy talks about the cop that is standing at the end of the football field of the high school and mentions his gun. He states, “Andy half expected him to whip out his sidearm and mow them all down.”
  • Peter gets brutally beaten by Golden and Bobo. At one point, Golden instructs Peter to put his hands behind his back to allow Bobo to attack him even further. “‘Hands behind your back,’ Golden said. He had the gun trained on Peter’s forehead. ‘Bobo, tie him up. He’ll probably kick your ass by accident otherwise.’”
  • Andy tases Peter with the encouragement of Bobo. “At first, Andy thought Peter was playacting-quaking and quivering like a fish just pulled out of the water, little grunts coming out of his slack mouth. Then his knees buckled and his forehead collided with the pavement. His body went still.”
  • Peter punches Bobo in the face after he makes a foul remark about Eliza. “A black blur of movement, a meaty thunk. Bobo was suddenly bent over, holding his hands to his stomach. And there was Peter, appearing out of nowhere, like some kind of superhero.”
  • Police intervene at a rally being held and begin to use tear gas to disperse the crowds.
  • Eliza tries to talk to a cop and he detains her instead. “The cop wretched Eliza’s arm behind her back, and then he was carrying her away, back beyond the wall of shields.”
  • Eliza, Misery, Bobo, and Kevin get detained and put into a juvenile detention center for being at the rally.
  • Andy references the suicide pact that he had with Bobo and how he was unable to go through with it. “He called Bobo’s cell as soon as he realized he couldn’t go through with it, but there was no answer, so he called the police. Later on, a paramedic told him it had come down to just a few minutes.”
  • Andy and Bobo steal a guitar from the mall and witness others looting.
  • Bobo kidnaps Misery and keeps her held hostage at the hotel he is staying at.
  • Anita shoots Golden. “‘What happened to Golden?’ Peter asked. ‘I shot him,’ Anita said. There was no remorse in her voice.”
  • Eliza stabs Bobo. “He slid off her, onto the floor, and she jumped on top of him, preparing for the next assault. But he didn’t move. She’d aimed for the heart and she’d found it.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Andy says he wants to “smoke a bowl.”
  • Andy mentions that Bobo’s dad was in an alcohol treatment facility.
  • Peter and Andy successfully get the detention center to release the juvenile occupants, the protestors have a large party in the detention center. There is a lot of alcohol provided and everyone is heavily intoxicated.
  • The characters frequently drink out of a bottle of alcohol or finish a bottle of alcohol.

Language

  • Profanity is used regularly and includes words such as shit, fuck, and ass.
  • Bobo is said to be able to “chat up the crackheads and gangbangers.”
  • Eliza is talking about her encounter with Peter with her father and says, “He can fuck off and die for all I care.”
  • When Eliza goes to see her father, he says “Gaga’s a fucking hag next to you.”
  • The term slut is used frequently.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Peter admits that he is a “Christian”, while Eliza confesses that she doesn’t believe in God.
  • As Ardor makes contact with the earth, Eliza finds herself “praying for forgiveness. Praying for grace. Praying for mercy.”

by Cassady McIntyre

The Stars Never Rise

Soul-consuming demons started a war and almost caused the end of the world. The Church protects the remaining vestiges of humanity, and keeps everyone safe by enforcing strict rules and penance. Nina and her sister chafe under this strict system, and when they discover a horrifying truth, they must decide if the Church is really the hero everyone believes.

The Stars Never Rise has an interesting premise and is well-written, with actions and questions that keep the pages turning. However, the plot follows a lot of Young Adult clichés that hinder the originality of this text. There is a lot of violence that makes this novel inappropriate for young readers. Also, the Church is demonized and religion is shown in an incredibly negative light.

Sexual Content

  • Mel tells her sister, “You’re gonna need some way to work off all that sexual frustration.”
  • Nina thinks, “I didn’t know a single boy who’d ever worn a purity ring. Evidently, their virginity was worth even less than the stolen band of steel around my finger.”
  • Girls are examined by the Church, to determine if they are fit to bear children. “At fifteen years old, I was disqualified for procreation based on a history of allergies, my flat feet, and mild myopia–conditions it wouldn’t be fair to pass along to the next generation . . . Nearly a third of the girls in my class were declared unfit. We were sterilized that afternoon.”
  • Nina’s fifteen-year-old sister gets pregnant with her secret boyfriend. She says, “We tried to stop. We knew it was wrong, but it didn’t feel wrong.” Her mother tells her that, “We’ll fix it. I know someone who can do it safely, but it’s a drive. . .”
  • When Nina is caught shoplifting, the shop owner demands a sexual favor in exchange for keeping quiet. “My teeth ground together as I unbuttoned my blouse. I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t have to see him, but I couldn’t avoid hearing the way his breathing changed. The way his inhalations hitched, his exhalations growing heavier and wetter with each button that slid through its hole . . . A second later, his fingers were there, greedy and eager. They pushed at the remaining material, shoving my bra up, squeezing, pinching.”
  • Finn assures Nina that he won’t rape her. ” ‘ If I were planning to . . . you know . . . ‘ He waved one hand at my entire body. ‘I wouldn’t have given you a slab of wood with nails sticking out of it.’ He pointed to the two-by-four still lying next to me within easy reach. ‘I’m as protective of my parts as the next guy’ “
  • Nina and Finn kiss a few times. “His mouth met mine, and I almost choked on surprise . . . I committed to that kiss like I’d committed to little else in life. My fingers brushed over short stubble at the back of his jaw on their way into his hair. He sucked my lower lip into his mouth and I let him have it.”
  • Nina thinks about her “carnal rebellion following [her] sterilization,” when she had a slew of one-night stands.
  • Dale accuses Nina of prostitution. “I caught her several times, here in the store, and she always tried to buy her way out of trouble, if you know what I mean. You know, with the only kind of payment a girl like that understands.”

Violence

  • Nina and her sister avoid their mother as much as possible because their mother angers easily and can get violent.
  • When a seventeen-year-old refused to kneel for worship, “They forced her to her knees on the dais, closed the steel cuffs about her calves, then burned her alive in front of the entire school.”
  • Mel realizes her mother plans to sell her. Her mother says, “You can’t imagine what a young, healthy body is worth to the right people.”
  • Nina discovers she is an exorcist. “The moment my fingers touched her chest, something exploded between us. . . The monster tried to back away but couldn’t disconnect from the fierce light still shining between us . . . the tingling beneath my skin had become the roar of a blaze that should have devoured my fingers but consumed the demon instead.”
  • Nina exorcizes several demons. “We crashed to the ground and I sat on his stomach, then pressed my glowing left hand against his chest. The demon screamed like a wounded cat, and my hand burned and burned and burned.” “He tried to scramble off me, but the fire in my hand had captured him, and the demon was stuck there, convulsing in the throes of death as his rotting flesh fried.”
  • Adam is burned alive. “Fire consumed Adam . . . could not mute his screams or the crackle of his crisping skin, captured by multiple microphones and broadcast all over the country. He hunched forward . . . I choked on the scent of burning flesh and hair.”
  • A demon kills several people. “He lay dead on the ground, blood still pouring through the gaping hole in his throat.” “Blood and liquefied brains exploded into the lobby from the hallway, and I caught a brief glimpse of the carnage already laid out inside.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Nina suspects her mother is doing drugs. “There was a spot of blood on her pillow, and more of it crusted on her upper lip. Another nosebleed. She was killing herself. Slowly. Painfully, from the looks of it.”
  • Finn emerged from the kitchen with a bottle of water in one hand and a clear, unlabeled bottle of amber liquid in the other.”

Language

  • Hell is said often, both in referring to the place and as profanity.
  • Shit and bullshit are said several times. “Oh shit,” Nina thinks. “Oh shitshitshit.”
  • Damn is said often. Nina’s sister says, “If you’re determined to damn yourself to a life of servitude, communal living and celibacy wouldn’t you rather be slaying demons?”
  • The word bitch is used several times. Mel’s mother calls her a “little bitch!”
  • Ass and badass are said a few times. Devi tells Finn, “I swear I’ll exorcise your ass right out of him.”

Supernatural

  • When a demon inhabits a human body for too long, that body turns into a degenerate. “It was bald, with cheekbones so sharp they should have sliced through skin, and ears pointy on both the tops and the lobes. And most–disturbing of all–it was female. Sagging, grayish breasts swung beneath torn scraps of cloth that were once a dress.”
  • Exorcists are the only ones who can send demons back to hell. “his hand against her bony sternum, both glowing with the last of that strange light . . . An exorcist in a hoodie. Where was his long black cassock, his cross, and his holy water?”
  • There is a shortage of souls because the demons ate so many during the war. Therefore there are many stillbirths. Children who do live are usually given a soul by an elder family member. Those that are lucky get a soul from the public registry when someone dies.
  • Some exorcists have extra abilities, like heightened hearing and enhanced strength.
  • The group Nina is rescued by is a group of people who were denounced by the church because they are supposedly suspected of possession.

Spiritual Content

  • Nina’s sister says, “Everything worth doing is a sin.”
  • Nina breaks many Church rules. “So what if deception was a sin? You can’t get convicted if you don’t get caught.”
  • As punishment for blasphemy, “Sister Camilla dragged Matthew onto the stone dais in the center of the courtyard, then forced him to kneel . . . she flipped a curved piece of metal over each of his legs, just above his calves, then snapped the locks into place, confining the five-year-old to his knees in the freezing rain. The posture of penitence.”
  • Finn is a soul without a body, who is able to inhabit other people’s bodies.

 

Latest Reviews