Book Review: The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker

age-of-miraclesKaren Thompson Walker‘s The Age of Miracles is a surprisingly quiet book, given that it deals with catastrophic, “the end of the world as we know it” events.

The book takes place in a sunny Southern California suburb, about “95 miles from Hollywood,” as 11yo narrator Julia puts it. The year is never given and seems rather ambiguous – parents still read the newspaper every morning at the kitchen table, but tweens in the book all have cell phones. The book begins with Julia at home with her uptight mom and doctor dad, when the news reports a startling fact: the speed of Earth’s rotation is slowing down. Days begin growing by six minutes, then 20, then by hours and more. The Age of Miracles follows Julia for the next year while she makes her way into young adulthood amid this perilous scientific backdrop.

The premise of The Age of Miracles – “the slowing,” as the narrator refers to it – was fascinating to me. The effects on ocean tides, wildlife, crops, were very interesting. I especially enjoyed the brief exploration of what a lengthening of days would do to people and society at large; two groups in the story soon emerge – those who abide by “clock time” (24 hours in a day, no matter if the sun is up or down), and those who abide by “real time” (day = sun up, night = sun down).┬áThompson Walker’s writing is also very good, with phrases and sections I felt compelled to re-read or highlight.

{do you sense a “but” coming? because there is a “but”……..}

BUT, while I understand the book was meant to be introspective – it is basically the journal of an 11yo girl – it was almost too quiet, too soft. The writer introduces all of these fascinating elements into the book – really, they rival any from the latest string of blockbuster dystopian young adult books – but they only make a dull hum instead of a sound impact. It’s an interesting read, but strangely unemotional. I was more curious to know what was happening to Earth than what was happening to the main characters.

I was also annoyed by the author’s overuse of foreshadowing. It’s clear from the beginning of the book that the narrator is telling her story from many years in the future, but the constant mention of “if I only knew then that…” and “that was the last time I ever…” felt like pesky interruptions from her future self. Related to that skip in time settings, the narrator painstakingly chronicles roughly a year of her life after “the slowing,” but then the story zips light-speed to the “present,” with her as a young 20-something, consequently still hinting at the world’s imminent ending, even though it’s been 10 years now.

I liked The Age of Miracles, but quite frankly, I think it should have been better. The book has a brilliant premise, and some fantastic writing, but something vital – more emotion, more intensity, more something – was needed to really knock it out of the park for me. If I were grading this out of 5 stars, I’d give it a solid 3.

*Side note: My impression is that this book is being marketed to adults. But I think most adults would find it a pretty dull read. I definitely recommend it for teens or fans of Young Adult.

 

**Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links included in this post.

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  • Jennifer Donovan

    I posted a review today of a YA-esque book (with a young narrator) being marketed to adults (but also cross-marketed to YA), but it did hold up. It’s interesting when books are written about teens, but marketed to adults. In my review of this book, I talk about why this one is, and do understand it, but other times I really don’t.

    (http://www.5minutesforbooks.com/27022/tell-the-wolves-im-home/)

  • Jessica R.

    I love reading distopian fiction and I hated this book. (Spoiler alert) most distopian novels offer some sort of hopeful outcome, humans triumphing over nature and catastrophe, etc. this book was so not like that. I really think it’s too grim and dark for YA which is why it’s marketed to adults.

    • You know what’s interesting, the more I think about this book, the less I like it. You’re right – it’s grim, dark, offers no type of redemption. It occupies a strange place because I think it lacks the meat adult readers would want and yet lacks the triumph young adults would want. It really is astounding that it was so widely praised.