Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
Random House Publishing Group, June 2012
Advanced Reading Copy, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780812992977

Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles is a luminous, haunting, and unforgettable debut novel about coming of age set against the backdrop of an utterly altered world.
On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

My Thoughts:

In The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker's debut novel, Julia is an eleven year old living in a Southern California suburb and a sixth grader in middle school when it happened: the earth's rotation started to slow. "It was, at the beginning, a quite invisible catastrophe (pg. 12)" Julia recounts the surreal events occurring around her while she is navigating the tumultuous time of middle school/ junior high and puberty. In The Age of Miracles Julia is dealing with things that are endemic to her age, which are juxtaposed to the world wide catastrophe unfolding around her.  As the "slowing" increases, the lengthening of both the day and night, it baffles scientists, and there are more and more global repercussions.

I really enjoyed Julia as the narrator in The Age of Miracles. She's an observant, honest narrator. Her voice rang true. She is a quiet, observant girl, an only child who takes careful note of everything that is occurring around her. Yes, there are catastrophic changes happening, but, to someone her age, losing friends, getting a bra, or liking a boy can all feel just as earth shattering. She is dealing with the day to day realities while living with and observing the inexplicable world changing events of the slowing. She mentions events happening from the slowing, birds falling out of the sky and a division between the "real timers" versus the "clock timers," placed in the context of her daily life.

Rather than a traditional science fiction tale, The Age of Miracles is a coming-of-age story with a science fiction element to the plot. Julia is looking back, as an adult, telling the story of what happened to her when the slowing first started.  As Julia says: "This was middle school, the age of miracles, the time when kids shot up three inches over the summer, when breasts bloomed from nothing, when voices dipped and dove (pg. 43)." She's going to mention many of the disastrous details, but they are believably mixed with details from her life. It is reminiscent of people recalling where they were or what they were doing during any disaster. No matter the scale of the disaster, you look back at the before and after of the event through your eyes and your experiences. Changes or disasters, large and small, are all placed in the context of your life when you retell them. You try to make connections to make some sense of what you know is to come.

Julia observes: "And it sees to me now that the slowing triggered certain other changes too, less visible at first but deeper. It disrupted certain subtler trajectories: the track of friendships, for example, the paths toward and away from love. But who am I to say that the course of my childhood was not already set long before the slowing? Perhaps my adolescence was only an average adolescence, the stinging a quite unremarkable stinging. There is such a thing as coincidence: the alignment of two or more seemingly related events with no causal connection. Maybe everything that happened to me and my family had nothing at all to do with the slowing. It’s possible, I guess. But I doubt it. I doubt it very much (pg. 33-34).

Since The Age of Miracles is the story of one year in the life of someone who is an eleven-going-on-twelve-year-old girl, the age of the narrator would generally place this as a young adult novel, but a case could be made that it is more of an adult novel because it is an adult looking back. On the other hand, I could generally see a younger audience liking this novel too. Certainly Julia's concerns come across as realistic from someone that age. And, although there are disasters happening, they are not graphic or violent. The writing is simple, eloquent, and compelling.

The Age of Miracles is an exquisite debut novel. Very Highly Recommended
Karen Thompson Walker is a graduate of UCLA and the Columbia MFA program and a recipient of the 2011 Sirenland Fellowship as well as a Bomb magazine fiction prize. A former editor at Simon & Schuster, she wrote The Age of Miracles in the mornings before work. Born and raised in San Diego, she now lives in Brooklyn with her husband. The Age of Miracles is her first book.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes . 


We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it.
We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin. We were distracted back then by weather and war. We had no interest in the turning of the earth. Bombs continued to explode on the streets of distant countries. Hurricanes came and went. Summer ended. A new school year began. The clocks ticked as usual. Seconds beaded into minutes. Minutes grew into hours. And there was nothing to suggest that those hours, too, weren’t still pooling into days, each the same fixed length known to every human being. opening

On the sixth of October, the experts went public. This, of course, is the day we all remember. There’d been a change, they said, a slowing, and that’s what we called it from then on: the slowing.
“We have no way of knowing if this trend will continue,” said a shy bearded scientist at a hastily arranged press conference, now infamous. He cleared his throat and swallowed. Cameras flashed in his eyes. Then came the moment, replayed so often afterward that the particular cadences of that scientist’s speech—the dips and the pauses and that slight midwestern slant—would be forever married to the news itself. He went on: “But we suspect that it will continue.”
Our days had grown by fifty-six minutes in the night. At the beginning, people stood on street corners and shouted about the end of the world. Counselors came to talk to us at school. I remember watching Mr. Valencia next door fill up his garage with stacks of canned food and bottled water, as if preparing, it now seems to me, for a disaster much more minor.
The grocery stores were soon empty, the shelves sucked clean like chicken bones.
The freeways clogged immediately. People heard the news, and they wanted to move. Families piled into minivans and crossed state lines. They scurried in every direction like small animals caught suddenly under a light.
But, of course, there was nowhere on earth to go. pg. 4

The news broke on a Saturday.
In our house, at least, the change had gone unnoticed.
We were still asleep when the sun came up that morning, so we sensed nothing unusual in the timing of its rise. Those last few hours before we learned of the slowing remain preserved in my memory— even all these years later— as if trapped behind glass. pg. 5

My father would save that day’s paper for a long time afterward—packed away like an heirloom, folded neatly beside the newspaper from the day I was born.  pg. 6

We were Californians and thus accustomed to the motions of the earth. We understood that the ground could shift and shudder. We kept batteries in our flashlights and gallons of water in our closets. pg. 10

From inside, my mother called to us through the screen door, "Now they're saying it might be affecting gravity somehow." pg. 17

Later, I would come to think of those first days as the time when we learned as a species that we had worried over the wrong things: the hole in the ozone layer, the melting of the ice caps, West Nile and swine flu and killer bees. But I guess it never is what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different - unimagined, unprepared for, unknown. pg. 29

We were living under a new gravity, too subtle for our minds to register, but our bodies were already subject to its sway. pg. 33

And it sees to me now that the slowing triggered certain other changes too, less visible at first but deeper. It disrupted certain subtler trajectories: the track of friendships, for example, the paths toward and away from love. But who am I to say that the course of my childhood was not already set long before the slowing?. . . Maybe everything that happened to me and my family had nothing at all to do with the slowing. It’s possible, I guess. But I doubt it. I doubt it very much. pg. 33-34

Giveaway has ended.


Karen Thompson Walker’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, June 4th:  Layers of Thought
Tuesday, June 5th:  Book Drunkard
Wednesday, June 6th:  Rhapsody in Books
Thursday, June 7th:  A Chick Who Reads
Friday, June 8th:  Chick Lit Reviews and News
Monday, June 11th:  Reviews by Lola
Tuesday, June 12th:  Book Chatter
Wednesday, June 13th:  Alison’s Bookmarks
Thursday, June 14th:  Jenn’s Bookshelves
Monday, June 18th:  Inklings Read
Tuesday, June 19th:  Life in the Thumb
Wednesday, June 20th:  Under My Apple Tree
Thursday, June 21st:  Twisting the Lens
Monday, June 25th:  Taming the Bookshelf
Tuesday, June 26th:  Stephanie’s Written Word
Wednesday, June 27th:  Jen’s Book Den & Literary Review
Thursday, June 28th:  Conceptual Reception
Monday, July 2nd:  Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Tuesday, July 3rd:  It’s a Crazy, Beautiful Life
Thursday, July 5th:  The Brain Lair
Monday, July 9th:  Great Imaginations
Tuesday, July 10th:  Sweet Southern Home
Wednesday, July 11th:  The Scarlet Letter
Thursday, July 12th:  In the Next Room
Monday, July 16th:  Regular Rumination
Tuesday, July 17th:  She Treads Softly
Wednesday, July 18th:  Book Addict Katie
Thursday, July 19th:  Fiction State of Mind
Monday, July 23rd:  Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, July 24th:  Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, July 25th:  Ashley Loves Books
Thursday, July 26th:  Becky’s Book Reviews


Kailana said...

I have been hearing a lot of good things about this book. I am going to have to check it out for myself at some point.

Anonymous said...

I also enjoyed this book very much, and would love to win a copy to offer. thanks for the giveaway! here is my review of it: http://wordsandpeace.com/2012/07/09/2012-33-review-the-age-of-miracles/

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Julia DOES sounds like a great main character!

Thanks for being a part of the tour.