Monday, June 25, 2012

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is a quiet book with incredible tension that pulled me in from the first page. The narrator is Julia, a girl in middle school who lives with her parents in California. One day, experts announce that the earth’s rotation has changed, and the time of “the slowing” begins. “The freeways clogged immediately. People heard the news, and they wanted to move. Families piled into minivans and crossed state lines. They scurried in every direction like small animals caught suddenly under a light. But, of course, there was nowhere on earth to go.”

The book follows Julia and her family over the coming months and years as the earth’s rotation slows. Once I started reading it, I could not put The Age of Miracles down. The author does an excellent job presenting a plausible series of events on earth after the slowing begins. Days and nights become longer and longer, and humans and animals are affected in various ways. People struggle to carry on despite their worry and fear. Relationships falter.

The strain as the planet continues to slow gets more and more intense, and that’s what kept me reading. I felt like I too was living through 24 hour periods of sunlight followed by 24 hours of dark.

The Age of Miracles is a book driven almost entirely by character and world building. There is very little plot. The author is a good writer. She is able to believably capture the emotions of her characters and has a wonderful way with words. As the earth’s rotation slows, gravity is also affected, and the birds are among the first species to start dying and becoming extinct. While Julia and her father are taking a walk, her father spots a seagull. “I hadn’t seen a live one in weeks,” Julia says. “It did seem amazing, in that moment, that there had ever existed a creature with the power to fly.”

The last two chapters left me somewhat unsatisfied, and I was a bit puzzled by the title. It is taken from this passage: “This was middle school, the age of miracles, the time when kids shot up three inches over the summer, when breasts bloomed from nothing, when voices dipped and dove. Our first flaws were emerging, but they were being corrected. Blurry vision could be fixed invisibly with the magic of the contact lens. Crooked teeth were pulled straight with braces. Spotty skin could be chemically cleared. Some girls were turning beautiful. A few boys were growing tall. I knew I still looked like a child.” One of the questions throughout the book is how the main character’s childhood would have been different without the slowing, but the book is not enough about a normal middle school time period for the title to make sense to me.

However, that is a minor quibble. If you like good writing and getting sucked into a “what if” scenario, I recommend The Age of Miracles.

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