Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Age of Miracles (YA/Adult)

The Age of Miracles. Karen Thompson Walker. 2012. Random House. 288 pages. 

We didn't notice right away. We couldn't feel it. We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin.

The Age of Miracles is a thoughtful coming-of-age story narrated by Julia, age 11. When the "big event" happens, or the big announcement about the big event is made, Julia is entering sixth grade. What's the big announcement? Well, the earth has changed its rotation, the days (and subsequently) the nights are getting longer and longer. The earth no longer revolves around the sun in twenty-four hours. Within a week or two (or maybe three?), days are closer to forty hours than twenty. And the days (and nights) are just going to keep getting longer and longer and longer.

The terror of the situation is felt almost immediately by some, but for others it takes a while. Julia's mother was already prone to anxiety even before the announcement, but since the news came she's more hysterical than ever. And she's not alone.

The Age of Miracles captures what it is like for "life as we know it" to fall apart gradually, piece by piece, layer by layer. Specifically it captures what it is like to be eleven in a strange new world. Julia's world is just as much impacted by her new school year, her school worries about friendships and crushes, as it is the global catastrophe. Julia's home life mirrors the greater falling-apart of the world. As her mother is weighed down with sickness and anxiety, as her father escapes his burdens by taking comfort in a neighbor woman, as the three continue to live disconnected from one another.

Perhaps it is only natural for Julia's concerns to be about whether or not she'll ever see her best friend again (her best friend is moving away), or if the boy she likes will ever talk to her or like her back, to wonder if she'll ever get breasts, or to wonder if her parents will get a divorce, to wonder if her mom knows about the affair, to be worried about her grandfather's mysterious disappearance, than to be concerned about food and water supply, to be concerned about if the planet is still capable of supporting life. If the complete cycle of a day becomes several months long, for example, that means weeks of direct sunlight--too much sun, too much radiation, too much heat; but it also means months of complete darkness--not enough sun, too dark, too cold. What kind of crops can grow in conditions like this? Can greenhouses even begin to support enough food for an entire planet? No, there are enough people worrying about the tomorrows, let Julia remain in the worries of today.

Personally, I found the novel compelling. It was an easy, quick read. Is the absolute best post-apocalyptic book? Probably not. It's not Alas, Babylon or The Earth Abides. But it was a good read. I liked its thoughtfulness, its reflective nature. The narrator is reflecting back on the early days of the crisis, she's remembering what it was like at the beginning. I'm not sure if readers ever learn how many years have passed since the novel began, but, we do know that "the end" wasn't imminent or immediate. That people have had plenty of time to accept the slow passage into the end of times--at least the end of times as they know it, as they can imagine it.

The Age of Miracles reminded me, in a way, of "The Inner Light." (For those unfamiliar with that title, well, it's only the BEST, BEST, BEST Star Trek episode ever, Star Trek Next Generation to be precise.) It also reminded me--not in its exact details, but in its feel--of the Twilight Zone episode, "The Midnight Sun." However, I am NOT saying that the book is as good as either episode. I don't want to raise expectations that high. The book is what it is. Don't expect it to be THE BEST BOOK EVER. OR expect it to be the worst book ever. I happened to like it more than I disliked it. But that's me. I saw it as having strengths and weaknesses.

The Age of Miracles did not feel like science fiction. Or at least not obvious science fiction. It feels more like a traditional coming-of-age novel. True, Julia is growing up at a difficult time in history, a time when time itself is losing its identity. But Age of Miracles is grounded in the small details of life, life as seen through the eyes of a child. Nothing seems dependable, nothing seems certain; everything is changing, all the rules are changing, even the rules of science. 

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. (43)
We were, on that day, no different from the ancients, terrified of our own big sky. (52)
It's hard to believe that there was a time in this country--not so long ago--when thick almanacs were printed every year and listed, among other facts, the precise clock time of every single sunrise and every single sunset a year in advance. I think we lost something else when we lost that crisp rhythm, some general shared belief that we could count on certain things. (96)
Read The Age of Miracles
  • If you like coming-of-age stories
  • If you like apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic novels that are more quiet and subtle and reflective than action-drama oriented. 
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your nice review. I also love very much the esthetics of your blog, the way you insert quotations, and your section after each review: Read this book if...
So guess what, I'm now following you [thru Google Reader]. here is my own review of the Age of Miracles, which I also liked very much:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your review. I have read a few reviews of this one, but I feel like your review gave me the best feel for the book, and provided enough information that I felt like I could make an informed decision.

chrisa511 said...

Wow…I've seen this cover all over the place but had no idea what this book was actually about! You've just made it sound SO intriguing! I feel like I need this book now :p

Anonymous said...

Thanks for being a part of the tour Becky!