The Age of Miracles
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, 11-year-old 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.
Reading aloud a book is rather a different reading experience than any other. It's part audiobook, but much more focused than that. It also draws my attention to aspects of the writing I might not have appreciated had I read the book silently. Obviously, I didn't listen to the audiobook, but I suspect it could be really good. My parents enjoyed listening to the book as much as I enjoyed reading it (despite the sore throat).
What reading the book aloud allowed me to fully appreciate was the lovely cadence of Walker's writing. Her book read very smoothly and naturally, but with a somewhat poetic sort of cadence to it. The largely short sentences with some tendency toward repetition might have been a detractor had I been readin the book to myself, but, out loud, I found them simply lovely.
The one issue I had with the writing, one that I feel vaguely nitpicky for even mentioning, was with the way Walker did dialogue. 95% of the time if there was dialogue, it was followed by he said or she said. Most of the other 5% were he/she asked. I get that coming up with other words can be tricky, and this may have been a stylistic decision, but I found it really boring and repetitive to read aloud. Again, this is something I may not have picked up on had I read this the usual way, since I tend to gloss over those.
Much as I enjoyed this book and was seriously fascinated by the concept and consequences of the Earth's slowing rotation, I had some definite suspension of disbelief issues while I was reading this. The thing that gave me the most trouble was accepting that nobody noticed the expansion of the days until they were substantially longer. Not knowing even a theory as to why this might happen was also troublesome, considering that it happened to suddenly and so drastically. I could have accepted a gradual slow down without explanation, but would expect something cataclysmic to result in such a dramatic, quick change.
Moving past that, though, I found, as I always do, the vision of society trying to cope utterly captivating. I did have some more disbelief issues in that things mostly seemed to be going TOO well. Still, it was interesting to see how non-dystopian this was, with the governments actually doing their best to keep the crisis as manageable as possible. The Age of Miracles is very firmly post-apocalyptic. Even if I didn't always understand or agree with where Walker took things, I loved how widespread the implications of the slowing were.
What made this book such a high-rated read for me, though, along with the writing was Walker's glaringly honest description of middle school. Julia is a sixth grader much like I was, abandoned by a two-faced friend to face the awkwardness of sixth grade alone. She suffers from acute loneliness, desperate for connection but unknowingly sending out signals that send people away. She reminded me so much of past self and I just ached for her. Putting aside all of the post-apocalyptic stuff, The Age of Miracles captured what middle school felt like better than anything I've ever read.
Well done, too, is the family drama aspect. As the world falls apart, so does Julia's family. Her parents snipe constantly, her father escaping to work and her mother descending into a disease caused by the slowing. Julia herself alternates between trying to mediate and just wanting to wash her hands of it. The family's relationships, in good moments and bad, felt very legitimate to me, very real.
Though not a perfect book, I really, really liked The Age of Miracles. Walker's idea was new and fresh, her writing lyrical, and her characters well-drawn. I anticipate her next novel highly!
Julia is a bit of an outsider. She observes everything, and reports back to the reader what is happening around her. Her life is spent between dealing with everyday issues, like being the only girl at school who doesn't yet wear a bra, and the issues that come with her new world, like wondering if tomorrow there will be food to eat. What I completely loved about this book though is that it really isn't dreary. Julia's story does have a fair share of hardship and woe. However what she chooses to focus on most times are the good parts. Her boy. A sunny day. The feeling of belonging. It is a wonderful testament to the resilience of the human spirit.
I'm not going to deny that Mrs. Walker's story definitely rattled me. The catastrophe that occurs in Julia's world is one that could honestly take place. The attention to detail is wonderful, and the dystopian world that is built is entirely believable. Every problem that occurs is explained with a mixture of facts and sweeping prose. In fact, the writing is so beautiful that I was lost in it more than once. This is a story that you will definitely read from cover to cover. Don't expect to put it down. Once you fall in love with Julia and her story, you'll want to see it through to the end.
The Age of Miracles is a story of survival. It's a story of adaptation. Above all else, it's a story of a young girl who is just trying to find herself in an ever-changing world. This is a gorgeously written book, and one that is well worth your time. If you are looking for something that will have you thinking long after you've put it down, this is one to add to your reading list. Thank you to Karen Thompson Walker for showing us the strength of the human spirit through the eyes of one young girl.