Karen Thompson Walker's THE AGE OF MIRACLES is an extraordinary novel about a young girl struggling with the inevitable changes in her life. Eleven-year-old Julia is going through the same things all of us do as we grow up - her parents are confusing and contradictory, her best friend seems to have forgotten she's alive, and the boy she's had a crush on since forever is as inconstant as the moon (as Shakespeare would say!), acting like her friend one day and a complete stranger the next. Add to all this the changes in her body, the drama at the bus stop, and new challenges at school, and you get a real glimpse into what it's like for a girl on the edge of maturity. Walker's insight into female coming-of-age is remarkable.
And then, on top of it all, there's the novel's setting - THE AGE OF MIRACLES takes place during a genuine catastrophe of astronomical proportions. For some inexplicable reason, the Earth's rotation has begun to slow down, meaning the length of the day is increasing little by little until the periods of darkness and light are so long that it takes multiple twenty-four hour periods just to see the sun rise. The ramifications of this are profound, both on the people in Walker's world and on the world itself. When it's revealed that the Earth's magnetic field has shifted, it becomes very clear that things will never be the way they once were.
The best part of THE AGE OF MIRACLES is Julia's story, and only a small part of that story has to do with the so-called "slowing" of the Earth's rotation. In a way, the science-fiction aspect of the novel is merely a backdrop to the very real and identifiable coming-of-age story. Since the novel is narrated by sixth-grader Julia, we never get any real information on the scientific basis of the "slowing" or the physics of its implications. In structure, the novel reminded me of the recent film ANOTHER EARTH, which was ostensibly about the discovery of a new planet that was a mirror image of our Earth, but was really the story of how one young woman came to terms with guilt. Like the film, AGE OF MIRACLES is ostensibly about the changes our planet must face as its rotation continually slows, but it's really about the changes a young girl must face as she grows up in this ever-changing world.
Walker's thesis is that we can't predict what the future will bring - try as we might to prepare for disaster, things will happen that are unexpected and uncontrollable. Julia's mother hoards canned food, people argue about whether to live "by the clock" or by the rising and setting of the sun, neighbors turn against each other, and the rotation of the Earth continues to slow. And Julia continues to grow up. THE AGE OF MIRACLES is a beautifully written novel that offers a very real insight into the changes we all experience as we live our lives. The miracle is that in spite of everything, we keep on living. I recommend THE AGE OF MIRACLES without reservation. It is a novel you will not soon forget.
As someone who reads a lot of speculative fiction, I have to say that "Age of Miracles" was just okay for me. The writing was solid, the voice good, the characters were likable, and you genuinely wondered how it was all going to turn out in the end.
The premise--an ever-slowing Earth--was excellent. One I've not seen portrayed before. I really appreciated the hints of science, and the places where the book speculated on the possible results of such an occurrence.
What we don't get, though, is a possible reason for this calamity. What we also don't get, ultimately, is a satisfactory ending. At its best, "Miracles" reads like some of Ray Bradbury's more melancholy works. (Not a bad thing--I'm a big Bradbury fan.) But what Bradbury brilliantly achieves in a short story, seems stretched here to fill an entire novel.
There are a number of blind leads (discovered planets, experimental foods, etc.) and even the title itself seems, in the end, a bit deceptive. I understand that it refers to age of the main character, but with a title like that you'd expect, perhaps, a more layered meaning.
"Age of Miracles" is an interesting read with some neat ideas, but if you're an avid sci-fi reader, it probably isn't for you.
on June 26, 2012
When John Donne wrote "Busy old fool, unruly sun, Why dost thou thus?" he wasn't thinking of the end of the world. But what if the earth began misbehaving so badly that it made the sun appear unruly indeed? What if the end of life as we know it came not with the Biblical Apocalypse or Armageddon, but instead with a slow unraveling of the diurnal cycle? And what if this happened when you were eleven-going-on-twelve, and just trying to navigate the 6th grade social scene?
Answer these questions and you have the story of Julia, a Southern California girl of the not-too-distant future. Julia narrates the story as an adult, looking back on that first year of "the slowing." It's a foregone conclusion that the world didn't end, because she's still alive many years later to tell the story. I was still curious enough to keep reading, though. I wanted to see what sorts of climatological, physiological, and sociological changes might arise if the earth began to spin ever more slowly. Those changes I will not reveal, because they comprise the most compelling aspects of the novel.
Karen Thompson Walker is a fine representational writer. There are no heart-stopping passages, but neither are there any boring or poorly-written ones. The narrowness of the focus robs the story of a certain measure of its potential. We often see very little of what's happening in the world outside Julia's girlish set of concerns. In that sense it feels more like a young adult novel, with plenty of cross-over potential into the adult market.
What Walker does well is show how various citizen groups and government agencies behave when we are faced with a crisis. The government will always tell us to just keep shopping and all will be well. Certain people will panic, hoard food, and otherwise behave erratically. Factions will form, speculation will abound. But most of us will just keep soldiering on, adapting to the changes as best we can and stifling our deepest fears. Like it or not, the earth is our only home, and we're stuck here until further notice. [3.4 stars]
I wanted to like this book--I expected to like this book--but somehow I can't.
What we have here is a science-fiction themed coming-of-age story that narrates a year or so in the life of an 11- or 12-year-old girl. If I'd understood that this is a book for children / young adults when I started reading it, I might not be as disappointed as I was.
Age of Miracles is definitely not for adults. The writer's voice is too earnest, the science too soft, the plot and point of view explicitly adolescent.
I did find things to like about this book. On the whole, it is quite readable. The premise of the book is an interesting one, and Thompson is a writer who understands rhythm and cadence. Her voice is strong and consistent (if a bit stilted). The main character, a thoroughly unremarkable, somewhat timid woodland creature of a girl, is well-realized and persuasive; her concerns, thoughts, and actions rang true. I expect many readers, like me, will readily identify with her and want to care about what happens next to her. Sadly, not much does.
The book is readable, and yet somehow hollow and unsatisfying. The back story--that the earth's rotational spin is slowing down--would seem fertile ground for exploration, yet the devastation and chaos that would surely ensue remain stubbornly in the background and unbelievably muted. If the protagonist is well-developed, the same cannot be said of the supporting cast. They are either overtly one-dimensional or so mysterious as to remain shadow figures.
There is a flat, dead aspect to everything about the book. Perhaps that is intentional, a literary tip of the cap, as it were, to nihilism, apathy, resignation. If so, I don't think it serves the writer or reader well. I can appreciate the author exploring the idea that there are situations that come from out of the blue, that aren't anyone's fault, that have no solution. But if everyone has emotionally checked out and nothing much happens, who cares?
on November 20, 2014
This is easily one of the worst books I've ever read. The writing is mediocre at best. The little-did-I-knows dumped into almost every paragraph are jarring and ham-fisted. Most of all, it seems like the author decided to write a science fiction book without thinking "Hey, maybe I should know a thing or two about science!?" Nah, LOL. Every time she mentioned gravity increasing after the slowing, I wanted to throw my Kindle out a window... at which point it would fall to earth with the roughly the same force were the world spinning or not. If the prose or character development or story were enough to distract me from the garbage science on which this book is based, I might have enjoyed it. But, nope. Didn't enjoy it one bit.
on August 12, 2012
The premise was really interesting -- the Earth's rotation begins to inexplicably slow -- but the execution itself was just... inexplicably slow. This wasn't a bad story, it just really did not live up to my expectations. The premise could have offered so much more suspense, drama, even horror -- but the main plot centers around a preteen girl coming to terms with her awkwardness and low self esteem. This book should have been offered to a preteen-teen audience. Adults will arrive at the end of the book wondering what the conflict and climax could have possibly been. There's no resolution or conclusion. It seems the author just ran out of pages and quit.
Julia is an eleven-year-old girl who lives in California. Some weeks before her birthday, the world seems to be 'slowing'. By the time this ‘slowing’ is confirmed by experts, a day has lengthened to 24 hours and 56 minutes. The days continue to lengthen and this dramatically changes life on Earth. People have different reactions to this: some try to adapt, some, like Julia's grandfather, believe slowing is a government hoax and others, like Julia's best friend Hanna's family believe it to be God's wrath and return to their hometowns.
After weeks of chaos, the American government announces the adoption of 'clock time', in which the world functions as normal according to the 24-hour clock, regardless of whether it is day or night outside. Some people reject clock time altogether, like Julia's neighbour Sylvia, and set their lives according to the sun. Such people, called 'real timers', are discriminated against by ‘normal’ people. Meanwhile, the longer days start to have psychological effects on people: Julia's mother starts suffering from a slowing-related disorder (referred to as 'the syndrome', its effects vary from person to person), crime rates increase and some people seem to become more impulsive. And then Julia's grandfather goes missing on her twelfth birthday.
Julia tries to adapt to her new life, but when her grandfather is found dead, and her boyfriend Seth is almost killed by an aggressive form of the ‘the syndrome’ life is tough. Seth’s father takes him to Mexico, where the symptoms are supposedly less fatal. Julia receives one eMail from Seth after he arrives in Mexico. But then, after a power failure, the government only allows electricity to be used for life-supporting activities. Julia never receives another eMail from Seth, and the letters she sends to the address he gave her go unanswered.
Years later, a day now stretches to weeks and clearly the human race will soon become extinct. The government launches ‘The Explorer’, a time capsule of memories of life on earth. Julia still hopes that one day she’ll be reunited with Seth, and remembers the words they once wrote on wet cement one summer day: ‘We were here’.
This novel has haunted me for quite a while. It’s partly because of the reminder that the Earth is so often taken for granted, but also because so much of our biology and behaviour seems predicated on a diurnal cycle of a certain length. I would not like to be in Julia’s world.
on October 17, 2013
Review originally posted on my blog at westmetromommy.blogspot.com
This is not a book I would have picked out for myself--if it weren't for my book club, The Age of Miracles would have stayed off my radar. But that is one of the upsides of a book club--they introduce readers to books they would normally never read.
The Age of Miracles is a very unsettling book. The plot is certainly imaginative, although my engineer husband insists that what I described from this book is not an accurate representation of what would happen if the Earth's rotation suddenly slowed. Whatever--if you are a Science person, keep that in mind. If you aren't a Science person, don't worry about it.
That being said, there is quite a bit that is incredibly realistic in this book. Julia is as true a representation of a tween that I've seen in a long time. She battles with her own self-esteem, her friendships and even her first love. She watches as her parents' relationship morphs and how her society is slowly torn apart by the "slowing." The Earth's rotation slowing may seem to be a far-fetched idea, but the reaction of society to something unknown and threatening is very, very common.
I could not put this book down. I won't say it was a "fun" book to read, but it was definitely enthralling. While I would highly recommend this book, I would caution prospective readers that they are in for something that just might shake them to the core.
on July 31, 2012
One day, the rotation of the Earth began to slow. The 24-hour day that people had known all of their lives increased more and more, until the clocks were meaningless. The gravitational pull was affected as well, throwing off birds in flight, air travel, sports, even stranding astronauts at the International Space Station because it is too risky to attempt space flight. And as the day continues to lengthen, panic grows about what these changes will mean for the future of the world.
For sixth-grade student Julia, the "slowing" couldn't have come at a more pivotal time. Not only has this change affected the world around her, it's wreaked havoc on her lifelong friendships, her classmates and soccer teammates are disappearing as their families flee California in search of safer ground, and she watches her parents' marriage begin its own disintegration. And as the world searches for answers, Julia is, too, only to different questions--Should she say something to the boy she likes? How does she figure out which bra to buy if her mother won't leave the house? Can she trust her parents if they don't know what's going on either?
Karen Thompson Walker's book, The Age of Miracles, is more than a book about a scientific phenomenon that affects the world. It's a book about coming of age into an uncertain world, an examination of how much we rely on routine and those who hew to accepted behaviors instead of question what we're told, and a look at how many simple joys we take for granted. I really enjoyed this book and found it very moving and thought-provoking. It moved a little slowly for me at times (I guess kind of like the Earth in the book), but this is a beautifully written book you'll keep thinking about.
on June 16, 2013
Like other reviewers, I really wanted to like this book. The four star rating encouraged me to read. But this is the saddest, most depressing, downer story I've read in ages. I only finished because I kept expecting a miracle actually would happen, but it was all downhill, doom, gloom, fear and sadness for everyone - the character, her family, her friends, the entire earth. Not that books have to have a happy ending, but the title seemed to promise hope of something... Well written, but I felt let down at the end.