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The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

June 19, 2012

What if our 24-hour day grew longer, first in minutes, then in hours, until day becomes night and night becomes day? What effect would this slowing have on the world? On the birds in the sky, the whales in the sea, the astronauts in space, and on an eleven-year-old girl, grappling with emotional changes in her own life..?

One morning, Julia and her parents wake up in their suburban home in California to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth is noticeably slowing. The enormity of this is almost beyond comprehension. And yet, even if the world is, in fact, coming to an end, as some assert, day-to-day life must go on. Julia, facing the loneliness and despair of an awkward adolescence, witnesses the impact of this phenomenon on the world, on the community, on her family and on herself.

It’s not very often I read a book that I find myself having an increasingly emotional attachment to, but The Age of Miracles is definitely one of those books. As it is the final Waterstones 11 book to be published, I was very eager to read it from the beginning. I’m a big fan of apocalyptic and dystopian fiction so I knew this would be up my street, but I never imagined it would have quite the impact that it did on me.

When the Earth’s rotation suddenly begins to slow, immediately creating longer days surpassing way beyond the 24-hour rotation as we have now, the effects are tremendous. Days become dark, and nights become light, crops fail to grow either from over-exposure to sunlight, or not enough sunlight, and freezing temperatures. This means certain fruits and vegetables are no longer widely available. The power of gravity is heightened, meaning its now harder to kick a football. Radiation is beginning to seep through the atmosphere, causing extreme sunburn and sickness. There are endless consequences, ones you wouldn’t even have considered. With the 24-hour clock extended, most people are choosing to stick to their original time-frame, but others are trying to adjust to suit the new 30+ hour days, which will inevitably have dire effects on their bodies. We see all of this through the eyes of young 11-year-old Julia, who is simply trying to battle the already existing troubles of growing up. Not only does she have very few friends, have to constantly put up with peer pressure and bullies, but she has to deal with her argumentative parents and the boy she can’t help but fall for; Seth Moreno.

I couldn’t help but feel so much for Julia’s character. She has more to deal with than anyone ever should at her age. Her mother grows increasingly ill as a side-effect from ‘the slowing’, her father is barely at home and telling more and more lies each day, the boy she loves is dealing with the death of his own mother, and playing with Julia’s emotions in the process. And on top of all of that, she has to come to terms with losing the simple pleasures in life such as eating a banana or a grape, trying to recall the last time she ate one and wishing she’d known she’d never taste it again. It’s true that female readers will probably connect more with her character than male readers, but I honestly dare anyone not to feel something for her, as problematic parents and difficult love interests are something almost everyone has gone through these days.

From what I’ve seen of other reviewers so far, it seems some people are having trouble putting the sci-fi element of the story, together with the coming-of-age story. People seem to think it should be one or the other, that the catastrophic element of ‘the slowing’ isn’t explored enough, or isn’t seen from a global point of view. In fact, author Edward Docx recently said ‘the slowing’ was never even needed. For me, the two elements work perfectly together. If a gradual catastrophe such as this ever happened, what choice would people have but to get on with their lives as best as they possibly can? Julia is 11 years old, she has enough to think about as approaches her teenage years, let alone what’s going on with the rest of the world. The fact is, this story is through her eyes, and her eyes only. I didn’t really want to know about the rest of the world, but if that’s what you’re looking for, then this book may not be for you.

Karen Thompson Walker’s writing is so effortlessly beautiful throughout, and she captures Julia’s approaching adolescence perfectly. I couldn’t help but see myself in her, living through a rather lonely childhood, not quite being able to connect with anyone else, and then experiencing that all-too troublesome first taste of love. Some readers may think it’s your average stereotypical young love, and I’m not going to pretend like I haven’t seen this sort of thing written about a hundred times before, but it’s the way Walker has written it that makes it something special.

A few reviewers have said that the lack of answers in this book is very frustrating, in terms of why ‘the slowing’ is happening. Personally, I completely defend Walker’s decision not to give answers here. It’s not about why it happened, it’s about the effects of it on Julia and her family, it’s about living in the here and now, and not dwelling on whether a future exists or not. I found I was constantly guessing reasons as to why it was happening, but by the end I just didn’t need them. I was completely content without them.

I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone, so I won’t. But what I will say is that I was literally holding back the tears, and it takes a lot to make me cry from a book! I didn’t want it to end, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I flew through this book in a matter of days, which is quite rare for me at the moment, so that only goes to show how much I really couldn’t tear myself away.

If I could compare it to anything else right now it would probably be The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers, purely for its catastrophic plot seen through the eyes of a young girl simply trying to live her life and grow up as best she can.

You can probably tell by now just how much I loved this book. It is a truly stunning debut, and I am so excited to see what Karen will write next. I only urge you to read it.

The Age of Miracles is published on 21st June by Simon & Schuster, a very big thank you goes to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review. Also look out for my very exciting interview with Karen coming up this week!

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