Saturday, July 21, 2012

REVIEW: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Genre: Science Fiction/Apocalyptic Fiction, Coming-of-age
Audience: Adult/Young Adult Crossover

Summary: For 11-year-old Julia, the morning that the world changed forever began just like any other Saturday in her suburban California neighborhood. But she soon learns that the Earth's rotation is slowing down and that there are CONSEQUENCES AHEAD. Her mother leaps into panic mode, while her doctor father goes to work just like any other day. As the days grow increasingly lengthy, world governments declare that citizens should abide by the 24-hour clock even though it is 40 hours or more between sunsets and midnight might come during the brightest part of the day. Fringe groups of "real-timers" spring up in opposition to the "clock-timers." Birds fall from the sky, people develop gravity sickness, crops fail. Julia herself feels a mild fear as the world around her gradually falls into turmoil, but she is also coping with the everyday disasters of adolescence: bullying at the bus stop, her parents' rocky marriage, broken friendships, and her first crush.

First Line: "We didn't notice right away."

Tracy's Thoughts:
This book is written as a retrospective, where a now-adult Julia looks back on the time that her world—both her private world and the world at large—changed. As a narrator, Julia frequently provides insights that the 11-year-old Julia could not know ("It was the last time I ever tasted a grape."). Sometimes these were effective, but at other times I felt that they were unnecessary and even a bit annoying. But Julia's story is a compelling one. The changes on Earth are profound, and the daily changes to Julia's everyday life as she adapts to her changing environment and goes through the ordinary growing pains are equally riveting.

Karen Thompson Walker's writing is simple and vividly evocative. It is nuanced and descriptive without becoming cluttered or overdone. Take the following passage:
When we finally understood what was happening that morning, Hanna and I rushed outside to check the sky for evidence. But the sky was just the sky—an average, cloudless, blue. The sun shone unchanged. A familiar breeze was blowing from the direction of the sea, and the air smelled the way it always did back then, like cut grass and honeysuckle and chlorine. The eucalyptus trees were fluttering like sea anemones in the wind, and my mother's jug of sun tea looked nearly dark enough to drink. In the distance beyond our back fence, the freeway echoed and hummed. The power lines continued to buzz. Had we tossed a soccer ball into the air, we might not have even noticed that it fell a little faster to the earth, that it hit the ground a little harder than before. I was eleven years old in the suburbs. My best friend was standing beside me. I could spot not a single object out of place or amiss.
I read this book in one sitting. It is a fast, easy read and a timely one. Despite the fast pace, this is a quiet read—not violently dramatic like so many of the other apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic novels glutting the market. The dramas here are mostly small, everyday ones, but they are numerous and poignant. Although I questioned some of the science and would have liked a bit more fullness to the story and characters, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a pleasant change from the average "world gone wrong" novel, and the premise was top-notch. I look forward to the next offering from this first-time author.

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