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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bone-Chilling and Depressing, November 16, 2012
This review is from: The Age of Miracles: A Novel (Hardcover)
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is a bone-chilling and depressing read--and yet I loved it! In the aftermath of freakish Hurricane (excuse me, "Superstorm") Sandy, I was haunted by Walker's prescient picture of planetary change over which we humans have no control. Walker's book is a wake-up call to those who don't realize that our collective illusion of hegemony over day-to-day terrestrial life is just that--an illusion. And yet, this obvious reminder freaked me out so much, I found myself topping off my half-full gas tank, just so I'd be ready in case some form of Armageddon were to visit my little neck of the woods.

The Age of Miracles tells a not so far-fetched tale of the earth's "slowing;" days inexplicably begin growing longer--at first, just by a few minutes, but by the end of the story, so much so that daylight lingers into weeklong stretches. As in WWII Europe, people blacken their windows as the drama outside unfolds: Birds drop from the sky; crops dry up and disappear; crackling, radioactive "solar storms" cause skin burns and disease. But meanwhile, it's not safe indoors, either, because fear, stress, and uncertainty rule the ever-lengthening day.

Inside one such blackened home, 11-year-old Julia witnesses a slow-but-steady disintegration of her family. Is this happening because the shifts in the earth's gravity field are turning everyone loopy? She cannot be certain, but at the same time, she still must cope with the usual adolescent stuff--the loss of a best friend to a "cooler" competitor; a tormenting crush on a boy who doesn't know she's alive; and the cruel overall ostracism of her middle-school's heartless social order. Throughout of all this, Julia navigates challenging relationships with Seth Moreno (her "crush"), her declining grandfather, and her dishonest dad, each of whom is a paradoxical character in his own right.

And then on the outside, we've got a larger political drama unfolding: The government tells everyone to follow ordinary "clock time" (in so many words, pretend everything's normal and the natural world hasn't stolen a page from one of the more horrific episodes of The Twilight Zone). The economy and its financial markets need stability, folks are told, so send your kids to school in pitch darkness, pop a few vitamin D capsules before you go out shopping, and try to sleep while the midday sun blares overhead. A small fringe of people--the "real timers"--try to adjust their circadian rhythms to the changing days and nights. Those folks are shunned and threatened for having the audacity to think for themselves. Through this brewing conflict, Walker brilliantly presents a scathing indictment of humans' fear and small-mindedness whenever certain people buck the tide by behaving in ways that challenge our fragile, fear-based belief systems--most of which we blindly follow simply because "they" (who? The government? Scientists? Some other invisible, "in the know" authority figure?) tell us to.

Like The Meaning of Consuelo by Judith Ortiz Cofer (which I just finished before starting this), The Age of Miracles is an incredibly poignant personal coming-of-age story presented against a backdrop of larger life forces. In Consuelo, the external upheavals were due to sociopolitical factors; in Miracles, they were environmental in nature. In both stories, a fragile pre-teenager suffers her own internal maelstrom while larger life as they knew it undergoes a tectonic shift.

Much as I hate to genre-type books, I suppose you could label The Age of Miracles young-adult sci-fi. That said, you should only read it if you're prepared to be smacked into frightening, sober reality.
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