Review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

8

June 20, 2012 by Heidi

book cover of The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson WalkerTitle: The Age of Miracles [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Karen Thompson Walker [Website|Facebook]
Standing: Standalone novel.
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Published: June 26th, 2012 by Random House
Format: Kindle edition; 288 pages.
Source: ARC from publisher via NetGalley.

“It still amazes me how little we really knew. . . . Maybe everything that happened to me and my family had nothing at all to do with the slowing. It’s possible, I guess. But I doubt it. I doubt it very much.”

Luminous, haunting, unforgettable, The Age of Miracles is a stunning fiction debut by a superb new writer, a story about coming of age during extraordinary times, about people going on with their lives in an era of profound uncertainty.

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

With spare, graceful prose and the emotional wisdom of a born storyteller, Karen Thompson Walker has created a singular narrator in Julia, a resilient and insightful young girl, and a moving portrait of family life set against the backdrop of an utterly altered world.

It’s amazing to me the difference between reading from a pre-teen perpective in a Middle Grade book, and reading from the same perspective in an adult book.  Middle Grade books, even the ones that have very little or no magic, to me have always been hopeful and encouraging to readers who are undergoing what will undoubtedly be one of the hardest times in their lives.  Adult books, however, can be much more brash and realistic with those hardships.  Not everything will be okay, bad things happen, and you may never again be more sure of yourself than you were before stepping through those Middle School doors.

Karen Thompson Walker’s debut, The Age of Miracles, will undoubtedly be one of the titles this year that will become a colloquial piece of conversation in many circles, I for one am already planning to recommend it to many of my adult readers.  That said, I personally was unable to click with The Age of Miracles on the visceral level that I feel many others will.  To date, I have seen very positive reviews and ratings, words like “beautiful” and “powerful” being used often in tandem with the title.  From these words and the title itself, I falsely expected The Age of Miracles to be a book about big changes accompanied by hope.  Big changes there were, but sadly I learned that not all miracles are good.  Don’t misunderstand, I’m not a Pollyanna who wants all reads to be happy and good.  On the contrary, I am grateful to The Age of Miracles for its realistically tough nature.  I am only saying that it wasn’t quite the right fit for me at this time.

Everyone’s lives change drastically throughout the course of Middle School, but for those sixth graders in The Age of Miracles, life changed a little more.  There weren’t just contacts, and bracers, and acne, and make-up, there was also the slowing.  The first night in October, it was announced that the world gained 56 minutes in the night.  Each successive day grew longer and longer, causing panic to spread and habits to change.  Shelters were built, non-perishable food items hoarded.  Violent crimes and murders spiked.  Evangelicals shouted of the apocalypse and the second coming on street corners, while neighbor became divided from neighbor based upon the schedule they kept.  Real time or clock time, that was where your alliance would have to lie.  Follow the sun, or follow the pattern we have all become so used to.

Julia has to grow up in such a world.  A world where they had worried about all the wrong things, until one day, they didn’t matter.  A world where she may have been a practical woman who put stock in science, until the scientists could do nothing to explain what they were going through.  Maybe the things that happened in her life would have happened anyway, and maybe not.  It is this question that made The Age of Miracles such an intriguing read.  I could relate to Julia in awkward ways that I have tried to block from my own memories of these times.  That horrible feeling when your best friends no longer seem to like you, the uncertainty of when to take the reigns of womanhood and shave or buy a bra, the inability to ask anyone because it seems like they all already know.  The Age of Miracles made me uncomfortable, made me sad, and made me wonder about all of the subtle changes that will shape our lives for years to come.

The Age of Miracles is a strong speculative debut.  It is a book about human nature, and the things that make us crumble.  It is, indeed, a beautifully written commentary on society, relationships, and coming-of-age as every child experiences it.  It may not have been the perfect fit for me, but I do believe it will be the perfect fit for many.

We were living under a new gravity, too subtle for our minds to register, but our bodies were already subject to its sway.  In the weeks that followed, as the days continued to expand, quarterbacks found that footballs didn’t fly as far as they used to; home-run hitters slipped into slumps.  I would find it harder and harder to kick a soccer ball across a field.  Pilots would have to retrain themselves to fly.  Every falling thing fell faster to the ground.

It seems now that the slowing triggered certain other changes too, less visible at first but deeper.  It disrupted certain subtler trajectories; the tracks of friendships, for example, the paths toward and away from love.  But who am I to say that the course of my childhood was not already set long before the slowing?  Perhaps my adolescence was only an average adolescence, the stinging a quite unremarkable stinging.  There is such a thing as coincidence: the alignment of two or more seemingly related events with no casual connection.  Maybe everything that happened to me and to my family had nothing at all to do with the slowing.  It’s possible, I guess.  But I doubt it.  I doubt it very much.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  That all depends on what Karen Thompson Walker comes up with next.  The Age of Miracles was full of solid writing, world building, and story, and even if I didn’t love it I feel she has places to go.

Recommended for:
Here’s the trailer, very subtle and I like it:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iq4M4_f3y5o]

I’d recommend The Age of Miracles to those who enjoyed The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta, though I personally found this one far less depressing and more enjoyable.

Get a Second Opinion:
Have you reviewed The Age of Miracles?  Let me know, and I’ll link you here!

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8 comments »

  1. THAT’S what this book is about? Huh. It actually sounds really interesting to me. I am forever reading any article I find about the construct of time and I’m totally fascinated by the idea of leap seconds. How appropriate that you posted a review of such a book on the summer solstice. NERD ALERT! Randomly, the cover and title of this are very easily confused (at least to me) with The Probability of Miracles.

    • Heidi says:

      Maybe The Probability of Miracles is why I expected this book to be more hopeful, because that one was? At any rate, very different books, but the slowing concept in this one was incredibly interesting. NERD ALERT indeed, muahaha. I actually really liked all of the things she thought about and how they would be affected by the changing of the earth’s rotation. I think one of the coolest things to me was the affect on magnetism and thus everything that uses the poles as some kind of marker. It’s very well thought out, and a good read!

  2. VeganYANerds says:

    Like Flann, I associated the title of this with The Probability of Miracles. I haven’t heard of this book but I do like the idea of it and the way it was able to make you feel, Heidi. Lovely review!

  3. Ok. This book was a difficult read for me. I understood the premise going in, though I didn’t realize that the narrator was MG until I began reading, but like you I really expected there to be a more hopeful message in this book. There was such a sense of foreboding throughout the entire book, I kept waiting for the bottom to fall out but instead it was a kind of painful gradual decline. I wanted to like this book, and some of the rites of childhood that Julia experienced did resonate with me, but ultimately this book left me feeling really low and pretty bummed out about Julia and the world’s future. It reminded me a bit of Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, and that was a pretty bleak book IMO. The writing was beautiful for sure but I don’t know, I think these type of reads, while intriguing, just aren’t my cup of tea.

    • Heidi says:

      We totally had similar feelings on this one then! I agree with you 100%, I think it was very well done, but it was just NOT the right book for me. It was very bleak indeed.

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