Thursday, July 19, 2012
Author: Karen Thompson Walker
Genre: Literary fiction, speculative fiction
Publisher: Random House, 2012
Read for: Review
The world has never stopped turning -- but for Julia, an eleven-year-old living in Southern California, it does begin to slow down, slowly at first, but later stretching into drastically longer days. At first panic breaks through the world as animals and crops fail. Julia's mother stocks up on canned food. Certain of her neighbors decide to stay on "real time," living their lives with the waxing and waning light, while the country decides to stick with "clock time," lending an air of unpredictability to whether or not the sun will be out or the world will be steeped in darkness. However, the greatest changes come not from the slowing of the earth and its effect on the inhabitants but instead from the changes that occur in Julia's life.
The Age of Miracles, while about an adolescent, is not a young adult novel, in my opinion. While the story it weaves is about a young adult, it is told with an air of retrospection, with the knowledge and wisdom that adulthood brought to Julia's reminiscences.
In many ways, The Age of Miracles is a phenomenal book. The slowly evolving changes to the world's chemistry are heartbreaking and written beautifully. We see the frightening changes through a child's wide eyes -- the death of birds, no longer able to calibrate themselves to the turn of the earth; the fear of adults, behaving ruthlessly to people who haven't hurt them; the sudden, inescapable loss of certainty. Julia's days stretch longer and longer, eventually turning into 72 hours of sunlight, when the sun's power is destructive and must be avoided, before the earth is submerged into night for a subsequent 72 hours. The idea of the earth slowing was completely unique to me -- most post-apocalyptic stories are more extreme, involving nuclear warfare, wide-spread disease and hunger, or my personal favorite, zombie attacks. However, the slow deceleration of the earth offers just as much confusion and change as any more dramatic catastrophe, and The Age of Miracles paints that image with beauty and sensitivity.
Amidst the earth's changes, Julia is going through the changes that are characteristic of adolescence. She struggles with her body, which isn't changing as fast as some of her classmates. She struggles with changing friendships, losing her best friend to another girl. She struggles with the reality of her parents' marriage, which isn't the fairy tale she once perceived it to be. And, of course, she struggles with her feelings for the quiet Seth Moreno, a boy she doesn't know well but to whom she feels a connection and attraction.
At times, The Age of Miracles left me feeling depressed. There is a tone of quiet desperation throughout the novel, a sense that the issue is not going to improve but that the world is definitely in decline. One aspect of the story, one that I won't reveal because it was the sweetest surprise for me, was so heartrending, beautiful, and tragic that I couldn't help being moved by it, despite the sadness that at times seemed to overwhelm the book.
For a post-apocalyptic story that is more contemplative than most, wrapped up in a coming of age tale, The Age of Miracles will surely satisfy.
Warnings: a few instances of strong profanity, some discussion of affairs and sensuality, and some mild violence