Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles is a coming of age story that takes place in a dystopic future. Earth has suddenly started rotating more slowly, causing days to be longer. At first the day is only an hour or so longer, but the slowing continues until long periods of sunlight are followed by long periods of darkness. The effects on the environment and on people's psyches are severe.

The story is told in retrospect by Julia, who is a middle-schooler at the time of the initial "slowing" (and 23 at the time she is telling the story). Julia is an only child and something of a misfit when the story opens, but she has one good friend, Hanna, and therefore feels at least somewhat secure in the social hell that is middle school (ironically, "The Age of Miracles" of the title refers to the middle school years, when young people go through incredible physical changes). Then, when the slowing begins, Hanna's Mormon family heads to Utah; when they return, Hanna no longer wants to be friends with Julia. Julia's life is not fun--she has no friends, her mother--always a worrywart--is suffering from a new illness caused by the rotational slowing, and her father is having an affair with Sylvia, the piano teacher who lives across the street. Sylvia is a real-timer, rebelling against the government's demand that people's activities continue on "clock time," even if that means sleeping in broad daylight and going to school in total darkness. Real-timers are ostracized; many move to remote colonies in the desert or mountains. 

Things get marginally better for Julia when Seth Moreno, a classmate she has had a crush on for some time, befriends her. The two spend many hours together talking about such uplifting topics as whether they would rather die from disease or in an explosion. They risk radiation poisoning (and devastating sunburn) by sneaking out during daylight hours, which have become very dangerous, to spy on Sylvia. 

The book fizzles somewhat at the end--characters disappear, others live on. No one knows what caused the slowing or how long human life can endure on the changed planet. Yet Julia has decided to try to become a doctor--a note of hope, perhaps.  The Age of Miracles isn't a great book, but it's a quick read with an interesting premise. I think Novel Conversations will find plenty to discuss!

Favorite passages:
I had grown into a worrier, a girl on constant guard for catastrophes large and small, but the disappointments I now sensed were hidden all around us right in plain sight.

Sometimes the saddest stories take the fewest words.

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