Review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles

This book made me cry. The Age of Miracles seemed more catastrophic than miraculous, and it was heartbreaking in all its loneliness and betrayals. Walker’s elegant prose is at odds with the tragedies that changed Earth and the main character, and this book made me think about how incredibly powerless we – as individuals and as a race – can be sometimes.

Introduction

On October sixth, the slowing occurred, and days grew by fifty-six minutes that first night… and, eventually, by more than seventy hours. And people started to panic and stock up food in preparation for what seemed like the end of the world, eleven-year-old Julia is more freaked out by her best friend Hannah moving away than anything else, because that means that she’ll be all alone at school. Everything that Julia knows about her friend, her crush, and her family slowly begin to unravel, and much like the slowing, these changes are unexpected and unstoppable.

Discussion

The Age of Miracles is told by a twenty-three-year-old Julia, so the language in the book is very mature, and there’s a persistent sense of foreboding. Julia is such a lonely character, and her experiences really resonate with me; she only has one best friend, and when Hannah moves to Utah during the slowing, Julia is so awkwardly lonely and doesn’t know how to act or what to do at school. She gets into some pretty embarrassing-to-an-eleven-year-old situations, and deals with her social awkwardness by pretending to read in the library during recess or talking to imaginary friends on her phone. (Random side note, I’m pretty sure that Julia was reading Hatchet in the library – awesome book-within-a-book moment!)

And The Boy makes an appearance, even though I thought for sure he wasn’t going to show up. I didn’t really care for the story between Julia and Seth, the kid with the skateboard who randomly asks Julia to go with him to see the whales or ignores her when she least expects it. Pre-teen crushes are weird, and this book is a perfect representation of that weirdness.

In addition to the chaos around the world, Julia’s family is also slowly falling apart – her mom starts getting sick due to the slowing, Julia’s parents get into more fights, and Julia finds out something completely unexpected and disastrous about her family. Even though the slowing of the Earth has apparent effects on the human brain, Walker (and Julia) poses the question of whether or not all impulsive or seemingly-bad decisions during the slowing is due to this phenomenon, or if it’s simply a part of human nature.

We took more risks. Desires were less checked. Temptation was harder to resist. Some of us made decisions we might not otherwise have made.

The science fiction part of The Age of Miracles is incredible. A slow descent into an apocalyptic world, the slowing itself is described vividly and realistically. There’s a sense of impending doom that seems more terrifying than any zombie-, war-, or nuclear-induced apocalypse, and the slow pace really ups the tension.

Scientists had long been aware of the negative effects of prolonged daylight on human brain chemistry. Rates of suicide, for example, had always been highest above the arctic circle, where self-inflicted gunshot wounds surged every summer, the continuous daylight driving some people mad.

As our days neared forty-eight hours, those of us living in the lower latitudes began to suffer similarly from the relentlessness of light.

With the event of the slowing comes drastic changes in the human brain as well as the environment, such as changes in weather patterns and wildlife survival; Walker described all these changes through logical – albeit fictional – progressions of scientific studies and reports, providing a credible voice amidst the panicked crowds.

Conclusion

The Age of Miracles is a gripping tale told by a once-awkward protagonist whose problems are relatable and poignant. The unique fusion of science fiction and realistic fiction makes this a fascinating read, and The Age of Miracles was able to make me question the realities of human nature and the possibilities of an Earth that slows down.

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12 thoughts on “Review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

  1. This book sounded super interesting throughout your review, but it was the fact that protagonist’s problems were relatable that really sold me on adding this one to my TBR. 😀

  2. Wow, your review makes me really want to read this! It sounds like both the characters and the world building were very good and I think the idea for the book is very unique.

    • Yes, the world-building in this book is awesome and very unique. I love it when writers actually put care and attention into developing the sci-fi part of sci-fi, haha.

  3. Superb review! Glad you enjoyed this one – I read it a couple of months ago and adored Julia’s voice, even more than the concept of the world slowing. It’s a formidable and unique coming-of-age story.

    • Thanks, Thomas! Julia’s voice is definitely memorable – her narrative is very thought-provoking and insightful. I did wonder what it would’ve been like if the eleven-year-old Julia told the story from the present rather than from the future though… 🙂

  4. I got confused about the 23 year old part. Is her older self telling the story of her younger self? Other than that, great review. I would probably be able to relate to the awkward protagonist. And I like seeing some apocalyptic books even though they can be such tragedies.

    • Oops, sorry! Yes, that’s exactly what I meant. I haven’t read many apocalyptic books and didn’t realize how emotional they can get compared to post-apocalyptic books.

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