The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is the story of Julia, a middle schooler in California, whose whole world is turned upside down when a natural disaster strikes. The rotation of Earth begins to slow (coined “The Slowing” by the media) making a typical twenty-four hour day last longer. At first the slowing only extends the twenty-four hour time period by a few minutes, but as days turn into weeks, then weeks into months, those extra minutes begin to grow. Before they know it, days stretch to forty plus hours, affecting food growth, the weather and even sleep patterns.
Julia’s family tries to adapt to this new environment, following the government suggested “clock time” system, meaning even though the days grow increasingly longer, the clock stays on a twenty-four hour time period. Sometimes those twenty-four hours could be completely dark, or long periods of sunlight. Some of their neighbors go against the system and become “real timers” continuing to live by the rising and setting of the sun.
Birds start to die, people suffer (including Julia’s mother) from the inexplicible slowing syndrome, and their world slowly starts to fall apart. But within the midst of this disaster, Julia’s family try to hold on to some semblance of normalcy. Narrated by Julia, who is looking back as an adult to when the slowing first began, The Age of Miracles was an interesting read, although didn’t quite keep my interest as I thought it would.
It’s a unsettling story in various ways. The author focuses not only on the environmental impact that this disaster has on the Earth, but she also explores the relationships around her. Unfortunately, even though Julia and her parent’s are strong characters, the supporting characters in the book felt flat. The book was really two stories in one and the impact on the planet (including the bird deaths, the hundreds of beached whales and the strange slowing sickness) was a much stronger plot line than the one of teen angst and adolescence. In particular, Julia’s friends came off as one-dimensional characters and were utterly forgettable. I thought the trials and tribulations of an eleven year old girl dealing with issues of adolescence, friendships and young love would have been more compelling, especially set against such a terribly unsettling backdrop, but again the characters didn’t live up to their potential.
Having said that, the relationship between Julia and her father, made more complicated after the slowing began (and by her parent’s failing marriage) was probably the most compelling part of the book, but unfortunately wasn’t enough to sustain the story. The ending was quite unsatisfactory also, as the science behind the slowing is never revealed to the reader.
Lastly, I just wanted to point out that I am in the minority in my not-so-glowing review of The Age of Miracles. There are a lot of other people who loved this book, including Jenn over at Jenn’s Bookshelves, so make sure to check out other reviews before you decide to read The Age of Miracles.