The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
An ordinary girl. An ordinary boy. An invisible catastrophe.
When the Earth’s rotation starts to slow, longer days and nights are the least of the world’s worries as the Earth, as they know it, irrevocably changes. In the chaos, Julia and Seth find their very own unknown. I should start by saying that I generally hate end-of-the-world/apocalypse/eco-disaster books. I read the synopsis and dread the thoughts of reading them but this one surprised me. Cleverly crafted, the Earth’s rotation might be the driving force of the book but it’s the effects it has on Julia and her community that are foregrounded. The “slowing” feels unnecessary though and the ending is unsatisfying. The story focuses on the breakdown of relationships and coming together (in other instances) but the ending does not deal with the can of worms it opens. Furthermore, I feel as though an explanation of why scientists didn’t see this coming might have given the premise more weight.
Julia narrates the story, framing it in an adolescent’s viewpoint, describing everything in poetic detail and relaying the events proceeding the first news broadcast. I love her observations and perception of her changing world:
- “I heard the click and creak of the liquor cabinet, the clinking of ice in a glass.”
- “Bouquets of fine wrinkles fanned out from her eyes.”
She exhibits flashes of humour:
- “There was a lot to learn about the care of hair and skin. There was a proper way to hold a cigarette. A girl wasn’t born knowing how to give a handjob.”
She can ratchet up the tension:
- “We were driving a silver station wagon, although the police report would later describe it as blue.”
Despite all of these good points, I feel as though Julia could have demonstrated more of her character in her observations. In a crowded market, the narration is sharp but with a character infusion, it could have really set it apart from the competition.
I like the cast of characters. Julia’s voice, like many of the others, definitely could have been pushed even further. She’s an observer; something of a fly-on-the-wall but I feel as though she could be much more. I find the mother and father believable. I’m particularly intrigued by the father. He seems to be one thing one minute, but he changes dramatically when the “slowing” occurs.
Quality of Writing: 18/20
The writing is beautiful and evocative. There’s not much more to say except maybe give a few examples:
- “I missed Hanna like a phantom limb.”
- “Every morning officials announced the minutes gained overnight, like raindrops collected in pans.”
Set in a suburb in California, it’s the subtle ways that Walker shows this that make it an easy read:
“A familiar breeze was blowing in from the direction of the sea… The eucalyptus trees were fluttering like sea anemones in the wind…”
And how Walker weaves the evolution of Julia’s world into the everyday relationships and happenings of her community. We get an image of the fairgrounds and in particular, the description of the Ferris wheel stands out, its last remaining bucket likened to the last red leave before autumn.
Comparative Literature: 6/10
It’s difficult to compare this to other YA books as it’s a more subtle story, combining a dystopian element with romance, relationships and human nature. The dystopian element is simplistic but it works for this story that it comes across as wholly unnecessary. It lacks the complexity of The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner. The dystopian elements of these stories are pivotal to their plots. That’s not really the case with The Age of Miracles. It’s the breakdown of relations and the exploration of human behaviour that fascinates me and the “slowing” serves as nothing more than a backdrop that is never properly dealt with.
NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:
- Funny and gripping observations that ratchet up the tension
- An interesting dystopian concept though one that does not deal with the can of worms that it opens
- An coming-of-age story that contrasts the coming together of family with the breakdown of relationships
Overall Score: 76/100
Books You May Also Like:
Wonder by R. J. Palacio – a heart-warming story with memorable characters that will resonate with a universal audience
Gone by Michael Grant – the disappearance of adults and development of supernatural powers sets the backdrop for this story about struggle, loyalty and friendship
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – a story about community and the struggles and secrets that threaten it