Monday, October 22, 2012

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles begins with a momentous discovery - the rotation of the Earth has begun to slow. No one knows why, if it will continue or even how to adapt. Though one thing is for sure: life as we know it has changed forever.

Against this backdrop, our narrator, 11-year-old Julia has embarked on her own life-changing journey - adolescence. Julia, her family, the world around her attempt to carry on as usual at first, but drastic adaptations must be made. How these changes affect Julia, the people around her and the experience of growing up is a central theme in this novel. However, it is not just a novel of the end of the world or of civilization. In fact, it is more about how life continues on, more or less unchanged, in the face of drastic global change.

The titular "age of miracles" refers not to the the crisis the world is enduring, but the upheaval of adolescence. As the rest of the planet discovers that life as they knew it has changed forever, so does Julia, as her own personality, identity and family go through momentous changes. While some are directly brought about - or at least prompted by - the slowing, many are part of the inevitable passage from childhood into adulthood.

The first few chapters are heavy with profound and meaningful statements, which are, I suppose, necessary to communicate the depth of what is happening, it tends to get a bit heavy-handed. Fortunately, as the story progresses, this tendency towards the over-dramatic lessens (although, it could be argued that adolescence itself is by definition over-dramatic and filled with intense meaning.)

You know that Julia survives at least the first years of the slowing, since much of the the narrative is in the past-tense. So it's not really about survival - as in books like Life As We Knew It - but life going on against the backdrop of a world catastrophe. In many ways, the books is a hopeful one, in that even the slowing of the Earth itself cannot stop the awful awkwardness and trials of puberty.

I might have enjoyed more about the science surrounding the slowing and its effects, and more about what was going on in the wider world. But, that isn't really what the book is about. It's about middle school and adolescence, and in those respects, the author is incredibly accurate. Some of the situations and feelings Julia describes are so true, so familiar, that they made my toes curl (wasn't middle school just so, so awful?)

I was surprised to find this book in the adult collection, as the story and style would be highly appealing to young adult readers, too. It stands well on its own, but a sequel, perhaps from other points of view from different places around the world, would be well-received. The book has both a website and a trailer (below).

Happy reading!

~ Allison, Adult Services

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