“…as if he knew even then that there existed under everything a universal grief” (227).
I suppose that The Age of Miracles can be viewed as a dystopian novel. In it our narrator, Julia, tells us about the year she turned 12 and the Earth’s turning slowed down, eventually leading to weeks of daylight and weeks of darkness. It can also be said that this is a sad book, about the dying and destruction of our world. These things are true, but somehow Karen Thompson Walker prevents the novel from being as unbearably sad as the description might have you believe.
Julia tells us the story as reminiscence, as a woman in her twenties looking back more than a decade to her own childhood to recount the year that her entire world changed. This is the story of her memories of the year the slowing happened, when minutes and hours were added to the Earth’s rotation. We see the events through the microcosm of a young girl’s memory and in so we are limited in scope, we hear from her only hints of what is happening outside of her town in California. Others might view this as a drawback, but ultimately it’s for the story’s benefit that we are limited to less than a dozen characters. By being of limited scope we are able to focus in on the various effects the slowing has on different types of people, and how that compounds in the life of Julia.
The story, at its core, is a cross-hatch of a coming of age tale for Julia, and also the coming of the end of the world. As she struggles with the changes in friendships, being attracted to boys, the changes of her own body we also see the change in the physical environment, how people cope (or don’t) with the ever lengthening days, and what happens as people cling to survival in a world that seems bent on their destruction. Which, to many of us, is exactly what middle school felt like.
Probably my only complaint about the structure of the story is that so much time is spent in the early part of the school year/slowing. We spend nearly half the book going from September to December, and then the second half seemingly racing through January to September. I would’ve liked to spend more time in the second six months of the first year of the slowing but in order to build the world of the story; I can understand why Ms. Walker chose to focus on the first six. While the science of this dystopian sci-fi might not be plausible, it is still an intriguing story that will stick with you and make you think about how you would survive in a world like Julia’s. I whole-heartedly suggest this book to everyone. The writing is evocative and delicious while Julia’s story is intimate and engaging.