Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

In The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, the hum drum of daily life is played out against the backdrop of a fantastical change - the earth's rotation has slowed and days are gradually extending. It happens slowly at first with darkness persisting just a little longer each morning. Eleven year old Julia and her family try to cope with the effects of this change but also cope with those "hum drum" daily trials and it soon becomes obvious that life's daily trials might be as earth shattering as an apocalyptic-like change to the time continuum.

Julia is a precocious middle-schooler who keenly observes the world around her. Like any adolescent, she has a series of close girlfriends and an interest in a boy in her class. She also closely watches her parents' relationship and notices unspoken grievances and disappointments. In this quote, Julia reflects on her parent's history and the effects of the passage of time:
 When I think now of that moment in the kitchen, an almost unbelievable thought comes to mind: These was a time when those two people - that man hunched at the table and that women shouting in a bathrobe - were young. The proof was in the pictures that hung on the living room walls, a pretty girl and a bookish guy, a studio apartment in a crumbling Hollywood building overlooking a courtyard and a kidney shaped pool. This was the mythical period before I was born, when my mother was not a mother and was instead an actress who might make it someday, any day, maybe soon, a serious girl with a lovely face. How much sweeter life would be if it all happened in reverse, if, after decades of disappointments, you finally arrived at an age when you had conceded nothing, when everything was possible.
Her observation on the passage of time and the compromises (with their associated regrets) made over a lifetime is astute and dovetails with the dramatic change to time happening around her.

When the earth starts slowing, Julia, of course, notices all the resulting changes in the environment and her community. She notes the extra gravitational pull and the impact of lengthening days on crops and animals. She sees her community divided between those that follow the government's edict to stay on "clock time" ignoring the lengthening days and those that follow "real time" and live their lives according to the altered sunrise and sunset. Julia sees paranoia begin to set in as people suspect the government is withholding information about the natural disaster and even her mother stockpiles non perishables as she worries about the diminishing food supply.

All the drama going on outside does little to mitigate the trials of adolescence. Julia watches her best friend become close with another girl in school and subtly (and eventually not so subtly) is shunned by her. She is taunted by boys while waiting for the bus one morning and  is perplexed by one boy, Seth, who is a loner but occasionally shows a fleeting interest in her.  Julia begins to feel those first confusing feelings for Seth and her struggle to understand them so perfectly captures the confusion and turmoil of adolescence.

My Thoughts
I thought this book was brilliant - the perfect mix of coming of age with science fiction/dystopia.  I am not generally a fan of science fiction and the premise gave me pause as I considered picking up the book but the ability to see the cataclysmic change through the eyes of precocious Julia absorbed me so the science fiction became an interesting background.  In fact, I was surprised by how interested I actually was in those components of the novel. 

The writing is excellent - I knew we were off to a good start with this opening sentence:
 We did not sense at first the extra time bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath the skin.
The author's finely wrought sentences perfectly describe a scene or an emotion with just enough well selected words.

I finished this book over two months ago but had difficulty writing this review because I liked the book so much. I doubt I can give it justice in this review so I will just endorse it with the fact that it will definitely be on my Top 12 Books of 2012 list!

Thank you to Karen at Random House for bringing this book to my attention and sending me an ARC.


  1. I read this book last month and haven't reviewed it yet. I don't read a lot of dystopia either, but this book is so much more than that. It's the kind of book you have to contemplate fully before you can even attempt to put your thoughts about it into words. This is an outstanding, thoughtful review; great job!

  2. Wow, your enthusiasm is evident! The premise sounds great to me!

  3. I loved this book too, thought it was brilliant! I'm glad you did too :D

  4. I'm excited to read this! Did you know they're making it into a film?
    Any thoughts as to who should play Julie or her parents?

    1. I didn't know they were making it into a film - it will work well as a movie, I think.

  5. Another one! I've read so many good reviews on this book. I'm looking forward to reading it as soon as I can.

  6. Oh, I remember this one getting good buzz when it first came out but I'd kind of forgotten about it. But a "brilliant" book needs to not be forgotten - thanks for the reminder!

  7. I enjoyed this one well enough but I think you definitely liked it more than I did. The ending left me incredibly dissatisfied but other than that I agree with much of what you've said here.

  8. Dystopia is not usually something I read, but you have made this sound really interesting. I think it's definitely worth a look.

  9. Thanks for linking this in to Books You loved. Cheers

  10. Wonderful review! I've been intrigued by this book with each review I've read of it but yours is pushing me over to the "must read" side. I love how in the midst of bad things happening to the entire world, you still go through the pains of growing up.

  11. It sounds like you definitely liked this one more than I did. I actually often like science fiction and wanted more world building and less of Julia in this novel. I did enjoy the writing, but over all it was an unsatisfying read for me. I'm glad, however, you enjoyed it so much!