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The Age of Miracles: A Novel Paperback – January 15, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2012: In The Age of Miracles, the world is ending not with a bang so much as a long, drawn-out whimper. And it turns out the whimper can be a lot harder to cope with. The Earth's rotation slows, gradually stretching out days and nights and subtly affecting the planet's gravity. The looming apocalypse parallels the adolescent struggles of 10-year-old Julia, as her comfortable suburban life succumbs to a sort of domestic deterioration. Julia confronts her parents' faltering marriage, illness, the death of a loved one, her first love, and her first heartbreak. Karen Thompson Walker is a gifted storyteller. Her language is precise and poetic, but style never overpowers the realism she imbues to her characters and the slowing Earth they inhabit. Most impressively, Thompson Walker has written a coming-of-age tale that asks whether it's worth coming of age at all in a world that might end at any minute. Like the best stories about the end of the world, The Age of Miracles is about the existence of hope and whether it can prevail in the face of uncertainty. --Kevin Nguyen

Q&A with Karen Thompson Walker

Karen Thompson Walker

Q. In The Age of Miracles, you envision a natural phenomenon that threatens the entire world. This "slowing" is global, yet you decided to focus on Julia. Why?

A. Julia's voice--the voice of a young woman looking back on her adolescence--came into my head as soon as I had the idea of the slowing. It was the only way I could imagine writing the book. Adolescence is an extraordinary time of life, a period when the simple passage of time results in dramatic consequences, when we grow and change at seemingly impossible speeds. It seemed natural to tell the story of the slowing, which is partly about time, in the context of middle school. It was also a way of concentrating on the fine-grain details of everyday life, which was very important to me. I was interested in exploring the ways in which life carries on, even in the face of profound uncertainty.

Julia felt like a natural narrator for this story because she listens more than she speaks, and she watches more than she acts. I think the fact that Julia is an only child is part of why she's so observant. Julia also places a very high value on her friendships, and is unusually attuned to the subtle tensions in her parents' marriage, which increase as the slowing unfolds.

Q. The details of how such a slowing would affect us and our environment are rendered quite realistically. How did you get these details right?

A. No one knows exactly what would happen if the rotation of the earth slowed the way it does in my book, so I had some freedom. I did some research at the outset, but I came across many of my favorite details accidentally. Whenever I read an article that contained a potentially relevant detail--anything from sleep disorders, to new technologies for growing plants in greenhouses, to the various ways people and governments reacted to the financial crisis--I would knit it into the fabric of the book. After I finished the book, I had an astrophysicist read it for scientific accuracy, which was an extremely nerve-racking experience. I was relieved by how many of my details he found plausible, but made some adjustments based on what he said.

In general, I wanted my book to seem as real as possible. I recently read a Guardian interview with the Portuguese writer José Saramago, who said that his books were about "the possibility of the impossible." He explained that even if the premise of a book seemed "impossible," it was important to him that the development of that premise be logical and rational. That's exactly the way I wanted The Age of Miracles to function.

Q. Like Julia, you grew up in Southern California, where natural disasters are always looming. Do you think this influenced you in writing of The Age of Miracles?

A. I grew up in San Diego on a cul-de-sac of tract houses much like the one where The Age of Miracles takes place. In most ways, California was a very pleasant place to grow up. But it could also be a little scary. I remember how the sky would sometimes fill with smoke during fire season, how the smoke hung in the air for days at a time, burning our throats and turning everything slightly orange. I remember the way the windows rattled at the start of every earthquake, and the way the chandelier above our dinner table would swing back and forth until the shaking stopped. I sometimes couldn't sleep at night, worried that an earthquake or a fire would strike at night. But when I think of those years now, I realize that my novel grew partly out of my lifelong habit of imagining disaster.

If I've given the impression that I was constantly afraid as a child, that's not right. In fact, one of the things I remember most vividly about living in California is the way we mostly ignored the possibility of danger. We always knew that the "big one"--the giant earthquake that scientists believe will one day hit the region--could strike at any time, but mostly we lived as if it never would. Life often felt idyllic: We played soccer, we went swimming, we went walking on the beach. A little bit of denial is part of what it means to live in California. Then again, maybe that's also just part of being alive. I really wanted to capture that feeling in The Age of Miracles.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* This is the way the world ends: by gradually slowing down. When scientists reveal that the earth’s rotation has been extended by 56 minutes, there is a minor panic. Twelve-year-old Julia doesn’t really recognize what’s happening—sure, her drama-queen mother starts hoarding food, and she loses some school friends when their families leave town, but at first, life seems to go on as usual. Until the slowdown continues, and it isn’t only by an hour anymore—the days keep stretching, with no apparent return to normal. The world’s governments agree to keep “clock time,” forcing everyone to stick to a 24-hour schedule, despite sunrise and sunset. Rebels known as “real-timers” are ostracized and harassed. Some people become afflicted with “slowing syndrome,” leaving them disoriented and prone to passing out, including Julia’s mother, who causes a fatal accident due to a fainting spell. Studies document an increase in impulsive behavior in others, and those seemingly unaffected by the slowing find themselves making bad decisions. All of this has an impact on Julia, who sees her parents, teachers, and neighbors crumbling around her. All at once a coming-of-age story and a tale of a frightening possible future, this is a gem that will charm readers as well as give them the shivers. --Rebecca Vnuk --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (January 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812982940
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812982947
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,161 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,037 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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By Kathy Cunningham TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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