Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: The Age of Miracles

Summary: With a voice as distinctive and original as that of The Lovely Bones, and for the fans of the speculative fiction of Margaret Atwood, Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles is a luminous, haunting, and unforgettable debut novel about coming of age set against the backdrop of an utterly altered world. 

“It still amazes me how little we really knew. . . . Maybe everything that happened to me and my family had nothing at all to do with the slowing. It’s possible, I guess. But I doubt it. I doubt it very much.” 

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues. -- Random House 

It's pretty unusual for me to know nothing about a book when I begin reading it; however, that was exactly the case with THE AGE OF MIRACLES by Karen Thompson Walker. All I knew is that I had to read it because it was getting so much terrific buzz and it was on my list of must-reads for the summer. So I reserved it at my local library and waited a few weeks until it was available, and then I immediately dropped what I was currently reading and dug in!

THE AGE OF MIRACLES is eleven year old Julia's story about the "slowing" of the earth and how it affected her life. The "slowing" of the earth occurred out of the blue one morning when the rotation of the early began to slow down.. and it continued to gradually get slower every day. This "slowing" caused the days and nights to became longer, and it also affected the earth's gravitational force. As a result, the environment drastically changed, animals began to suffer, and people were divided in how best to handle the changes. While the rest of the world was trying to adapt to the "slowing," tween Julia was dealing with her own set of issues including her parents' troubled marriage, the breakup of an old friendship, and the strange behavior of her grandfather.

On the surface, I expected to love THE AGE OF MIRACLES; and for the first few chapters of this novel, it seemed like the story had the potential to be captivating. This novel is part science fiction, part literary fiction, and part coming-of-age (which I usually love!); and while I'm not usually drawn to books about the end of the world, I figured the eleven year old narrator would help offset the apocalyptic nature of the story. And initially, I did like Julia's voice and I thought the author did a great job of capturing the essence of an young girl; however, these feelings weren't enough to make me say that I enjoyed this novel as much as I had hoped.

I can pretty much say that THE AGE OF MIRACLES didn't live up to all of its hype for me, but I realize that I'm in the minority with these thoughts. While I did like this book and I appreciated the original premise of the story, something just fell flat for me in the execution. I liked Julia and her narrative, but I found the novel to be very quiet... almost too quiet. I kept waiting for something big to happen or even for a little action, and it just never occurred.

Despite feeling a little let down with this story, I did find quite a few things to like. As a mother to a twelve year old daughter, I found the character of Julia to be very real and honest. I couldn't help but love her! While the world was falling down around her and her mother was freaking out, she still was concerned about things that any normal tween girl would be like issues with her parents as well as her friends and buying her first bra. I appreciated that Julia remained relatively normal within this chaos and she represented to me that life does go on no matter what!

I'm the first to admit that I'm not really into science fiction and THE AGE OF MIRACLES is much, much more than just a science fiction story, but I actually appreciated the details about the "slowing." I thought the idea of this gradual "slowing" and how it was changing the world was so compelling, and I was very interested in seeing how people tried to cope with these changes. I actually found myself thinking about the resilience of individuals and how many manage to come together in times of tragedy.

And while I realize that this was Julia's story rather than one about the "slowing", I thought the split between the clock time followers and the "real-timers" was incredibly intriguing. The real-timers were perceived as a threat to the others and I felt as if there was so much potential with this idea to explore some of the inherent themes of human nature. The behavior of the people who were threatened showed just how irrational we can be when faced with something we don't understand.

Based on my thoughts in these last few paragraphs, it probably won't come as any surprise to you that THE AGE OF MIRACLES would make a very interesting book club pick. There is a reading guide with twelve terrific questions, and I'm certain that every reader will have some interesting insights into the events in this novel. Some of the themes that you might want to discuss (although they are a little scary in my opinion) include the end of the world and individuals' reactions to it. However, there are other themes including friendships, coming-of-age, marriage, parent/child relationships, denial, and deceptions that would be interested too.

While THE AGE OF MIRACLES didn't meet my expectations (which, in all fairness, were probably too high), I did appreciate it; and I liked how much it made me think about basic human nature. Recommended for fans of coming-of-age stories as well as science and literary fiction.


bermudaonion said...

I've read a few other reviews that agree with you - the premise was great but the book didn't live up to it. That's too bad. I only like science fiction when the scenario seems plausible like this one does.

Beth F said...

I've been on the fence about reading this one. Maybe I'll just let it go for now.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your honesty. I have some reservations about this much buzzed about book so I appreciate your viewpoint.

Serena said...

I have not read this book, but I've seen the buzz. I tend to stay away from these books until the buzz dies down so my expectations are too big.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

As you may recall, I felt much the same way you did!

Howard Sherman said...

The sci fi and literay elements really work for me but I'm not seen on the coming of age aspects. That's just me as a reader I might give The Age of Miracles a go because I am intrigued by the very refreshing backdrop.