Will Byrnes's Reviews > The Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
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's review
Feb 24, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: ya-and-children, science-fiction
Read in February, 2012

Growing from pre to teen is tough enough, but when the entire planet slows down, it makes the transition a whole lot tougher. Julia is a charming every-girl living an average life in southern California. Her coming of age joins with a slow-apocalypse vision in a merging of genres.

The ARE volume I read includes no explanation for why the earth’s rotation suddenly begins slowing. [Unless of course, I am an older, blinder coot that I realized, and just missed it] I have read that the cause was supposed to have been a large earthquake, but it is possible that that was edited out.

In any case we have parallel story lines here. One is Julia coming of age and other is the earth maybe coming to its end. The two interact as we would expect they might. In any coming of age, particular of an American middle-class girl, there are a host of items one would expect, a checklist, of concerns that might be in any bildungsroman. Social anxiety, feeling like an outsider, attraction to a boy, problems with friends, having to cope with obnoxious peers, concern about physical development, concern about physical appearance, including exposure, beginning to see flaws in parents, beginning to appreciate complexities of the world. Check, check, check, check, and so on. There is not much in the arc of Julia’s experience of growing that stands out here. It is clearly the external events that make this more than yet another tale of growing up.

The event is called “the slowing.” Unfortunately it requires a large act of faith to accept the premise, but let’s make the assumption, just for now. If the earth were to begin slowing how might this manifest? It is here that the strength of the story lies. The details Walker offers are fascinating, and include many symptoms that might not feel all that newsworthy. I would not be surprised if Walker had scoured the news for oddities to include here. Changes in the earth’s electromagnetic field are significant, exposure to prolonged periods of both light and dark have catastrophic effects on plant life. Birds plunge from the sky for no obvious reason, gravity itself increases. I liked how she projected a likely separation of people into two camps, those who stayed with life based on a 24 hour clock, regardless of light and dark, clock-timers, and another group that attempted to adjust themselves to the light and dark cycles that the slowing earth offered, real-timers. It was clear that a lot of thought went into the cascading reactions of earth’s biomes and its people to the change. Most of it made sense. Some did not.

Even were the earth to slow down, one would expect the rate of slowing to be fairly constant. In Walker’s vision the rate of change varies from day to day, and even the direction of the change fluctuates. I wonder if this is actually possible for an earth-sized planet. I would be interested to know what her source was for this possibility. I came across one particular item that was bothersome beyond that:
I wanted to think that somewhere on the other end of time, a hundred light years from then, someone else, some distant future creature might be looking back at a preserved image of me and my father at that very moment in my bedroom.
Really, did the author never hear of Star Wars, in which Han Solo incorrectly uses the word “parsecs“ as a measure of time when it is really a measure of distance? Ditto here. It is conceivable that Julia might mistake light years for a measure of time, but one must wonder if it is the author who got this one wrong. This would be surprising as it is clear Walker did a lot of research for this book. Another was when everyone was terrified by an eclipse. Even in a slowed down earth, one would expect that science would still be able to predict such events and offer public notice. This sort of thing is jarring and challenges one’s ability to suspend disbelief.

The book reads very fast. Julia is an attractive narrator, someone who readers can root for. Walker keeps the plot moving forward and gives us plenty of information about what is happening in the world without seeming to force anything. She offers plenty of imagery to enhance the characters’ experience and tweak our concerns about this world. We really do expect that the changes in the larger world will reflect, or at least enhance, the changes in our narrator. Walker does not disappoint here. An example:
Maybe it had begun to happen before the slowing, but it was only afterward that I realized it: my friendships were disintegrating. Everything was coming apart. It was a rough crossing, the one from childhood to the next life. As with any other harsh journey, not everything survived.
And another:
Some things that happen during youth, you carry with you into later life, and certain experts were already predicting an approaching tidal wave of cancers
So why did I not love this book?

First of all, even with all the apocalyptic material it contains, and despite the wishes of Random House, (and other publishers who have forked out millions, yes millions for this book) this is a YA book. It is actively annoying to be reading a book that clearly is meant for a YA reader and have the publisher’s marketing department pretending it is intended for readers who are way post adolescence, praying for that crossover hit. It would not shock me at all if RH convinces the author to have her name printed as K.T. Walker in hopes of giving her work a subliminal boost in growing Potter-like legs. Really, label it properly. Secondly, the growing up aspect of this novel seemed garden variety to me. Been there, read that. I enjoyed reading The Age of Miracles (with the world falling apart, one presumes that the miracles here have to do with the characters and not the things happening in the world, or they would have had to call the book The Age of Horrors) and would happily recommend this book to kids from 10 to 17. But older than that, not so much.
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Reading Progress

06/20/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-19)

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message 19: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Claire. Looks like we are at the same speed on this one.

message 18: by Jill (new)

Jill I felt the same way about American Dervish. To me, it was obviously YA. Maybe it speaks to the diminishing intelligence of the "average" American reader...?

message 17: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes They certainly hope to, Claire.

It may be that more people of adult age are reading YA, Jill, because they are not up to reading actual adult fiction, or because they are clinging to their recent youth. I have nothing against adults reading YA. I do it myself, but it seems that in many cases, it is at the expense of more adult reading, and may indeed reinforce a lowering of standards across the board.

message 16: by Jill (new)

Jill Will, I know YA has been given a bad rap, with reason -- much of it IS schlock. Having said that, there are some wonderful crossover books, such as Vaclev and Lena or even Mudbound. My one criterion is that it not be "dumbed down" and I know you agree!

message 15: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes Yep

message 14: by Sara (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sara I could not have said it better myself. Thanks for the very accurate review!

message 13: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes Thank you Sara

David Lafferty I liked the book. I am 58 years old.

message 11: by Anny (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anny I like the book too. It's true that I wish it had more technical and physics explanation about the slowing but I still enjoy it very much =)

message 10: by Sherry (new)

Sherry Thanks for the excellent review. I was considering this book because I loved The Fault in Our Stars but I think I will pass on this one.

message 9: by Lilo (new)

Lilo Shouldn't even a book that's written for young adults (speak: teenagers) get its physics right?

message 8: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Gah. I understand your frustration about covert YA. There's nothing wrong with YA, but people want to know what they're reading and so make an informed choice. It's one thing blurring the category between, for example, sci-fi and fantasy, but between adult and YA, no. Yes, plenty of adults enjoy YA, but plenty do not, or at least want to reserve YA for when they're in a suitable mood.

Will Byrnes Yep

message 6: by Trish (new) - added it

Trish Will wrote: " It is actively annoying to be reading a book that clearly is meant for a YA reader and have the publisher’s marketing department pretending it is intended for readers who are way post adolescence, praying for that crossover hit..."

So with you and Cecily here.

message 5: by Gracie Morgan (new)

Gracie Morgan should i read read it?

message 4: by Supratim (new)

Supratim Great review, Will !

message 3: by Soad (new)

Soad I never regret reading a book(except the pod dear god don't read the book!!) even if it's unbelievable…but a book that annoys me I shift through the pages until I reach the end and then I never look at it again I was going to read this but I held off because I want to stop reading YA novels being 28 I was getting too old for the teenage drama:))

message 2: by Tim (new)

Tim Great review, Will. Immensely helpful as usual.

message 1: by Clif (new)

Clif Hostetler Too bad the author didn't select "global warming" instead of "rotational slowing" as the pending apocalypse. Then it would have been really scary.

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