The Age of MIracles, by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker, has a fascinating premise. What if the rotation of the earth gradually began to slow? What effects would this have on the environment, on the social and economic fabric of society, and, most particularly, on the life of one eleven year old girl, Julia?

Short answer: nothing good. Before the slowing began, Julia led an uncomplicated life of California suburban-ness. But the disruption of the slowing, with its cascade of catastrophes, destroys the old normal irrevocably. Through Julia's eyes we see the birds falling from the sky...onwards to near total environmental collapse. In this new abnormal, Julia's personal life and hope of happiness is stretched gossamer thin--her's is a pretty hellacious version of seventh grade.

The Age of Miracles
is tremendously gripping. At the start of the book, I was so wrapped up in the beginning of the catastrophe that it was hard not to turn on the news myself, and sit riveted while scientist after scientist explained that they had no explanation. It's clear from the beginning that the story is narrated by a future Julia---it's full of dark premonitions ("we didn't know then that...."). And along with Julia, caught up in her life, we see these premonitions come to pass.

Though the heroine is a child, this isn't a children's book; it was written for the adult market. And it reads as such--there is a cold adult overlay over Julia's experience. Children's books have an immediacy of emotion to them, and the child character almost invariably has agency. The intrusion of the adult Julia into the story is a distancing, and I never felt truly privy to the depths of her feelings. And the poor girl has almost no agency whatsoever. She is like an oil-slicked bird, with a life that goes on, but senselessly darkened by circumstance over which she has no control whatsoever. So for me personally, inveterate reader of children's books that I am, it's a book I enjoyed, but didn't take to my heart.

But boy, is it riveting as all get out. I read it in two hours straight through, unable to put it down, and now I've passed it on to my husband, who, when given the choice, would rather read a book for grown-ups than a book for children, and he is enjoying it lots.

So if you, or a teen for whom you procure books, are looking for a dystopian read with no paranormal elements, where teen romance isn't a major plot point (although there is a bit of it), where the sci fi premise is the driving force of the story, and a block of time to spare (because of the strong possibility of not being able to put it down), give it try. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this ended up getting attention from the Alex Award committee (books written for adults that have teen appeal). This is the author's debut novel--I will be very interested indeed to see what she writes next!

Thoughts on the title--the perky Paul Simon song ran through my head as a sound track to the book, an ironic contrast to Julia's life. And the title itself read as ironic to me--adolescence is (if you chose to look at it in an optimistic way), supposed to be a miraculous time of becoming adult, with first love, unlimited possibility, and hope for the future front and center; here the miracles are those of end times, not beginning times.

Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

1 comment:

  1. I have wanted to read this for a while, but I just haven't found time for it yet...


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