Julia Reed's Reviews > The Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
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Aug 08, 12

Read in August, 2012

Julia has a pretty normal life for a middle class, California 12 year old. She goes to middle school. She wonders why Seth Moreno, her secret crush, still won't take too much notice of her. She still hasn't grown boobs. She frets about not being popular, or rich, or brave. She doesn't get invited to the right parties and her best friend has suddenly stopped speaking to her for no apparent reason. In ordinary times, any teenager or tween could tell you any of these things are simply "the END of the world." The only problem for Julia is that the world is literally ending outside. For reasons no one understands (pollution? solar flares? aliens?), days start getting longer, the Earth is slowing down and the consequences gradually increase from bad to catastrophic. Tides surge, the magnetic field falls apart, people take cover indoors to hide from now horribly damaging solar rays, crops fail, animals die out in huge numbers. People join suicide cults and predict the second coming and are skeptical of the government's efforts to control things. At the end of the world, when everything we know is coming apart, how is our behavior altered? The answer Karen Thompson Walker gives is: not much. People are still people. Middle School still sucks. First crushes are still sweet and painful. Parents still comfort and disappoint us. At the end of the world, we just go on doing what we know, and we muddle along until we can figure out what else to do.

The Age of Miracles is a pretty good coming of age story wrapped around an ok apocalyptic tale. I found the idea of the slowing to be clever and a little disturbing (Walker writes that the collapse of bee and frog colonies were just a harbinger of the slowing, which hit me a little close to home). Walker does a great job of making the reader feel the anxiety that Julia feels, a strain of adolescent angst exponentially expanded by the end times events. Phrases such as "that was the last grape I ever ate" and "If I had known that was the last time we would speak I would have..." and "That was the last day we saw the sun" proliferate in the novel. Julia narrates from a place in the future, so even if you become bored of the story, and you might, you read on in hopes of discovering what horrible or wonderful thing will have happened to the human race once we catch up to the time of Julia the narrator. Unfortunately, the pay off isn't as satisfying as the build up. I can't help but wonder if I would have liked this story more if the apocalypse narrative had been cut and it was just a conventional coming of age story of a suburban American girl. Yes, it's a story that has been told before, but so has the "humans are human right up until the end" theme. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that's become a vogue in apocalyptic movies and books. Telling one familiar story is comforting, telling two is just pedestrian. Like the human race apparently, The Age of Miracles goes out with a whimper.
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