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The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
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The Age of Miracles (edition 2012)

by Karen Thompson Walker

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1,9122403,582 (3.69)125
katiekrug's review
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
An ordinary coming of age story set in extraordinary circumstances, this debut novel is beautifully written and true to the perspective of it's 11-year old narrator, Julia. All of the uncertainty, resentment and angst of adolescence are captured while the details of a worldwide catastrophe throw the banality of everyday life into stark relief. ( )
  katiekrug | Jun 9, 2012 |
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This is a dystopian novel that hits eerily close to home. She has taken our reality and thrown one wrench into the works and shows how it would not only effect our society but something as base as growing up.

The story isn't one that will have you gasping with its twists and turns, but I know once I put it down I was left with many questions to ponder and with some new outlooks on human nature. A thoroughly enjoyable read. ( )
  plaeski | Dec 16, 2014 |
Julia is an ordinary middle school girl living an ordinary life, until the day when everybody's definition of "ordinary" changes: a 25-hour day. It turns out the Earth's rotation is mysteriously slowing, and each day from then on is longer than the last. Which is not good news for humanity, although Julia and her family carry on as best they can.

Let me start by saying, this is a pretty good book. Honestly. It's very well-written (especially for a YA novel, which I think is how it was marketed), it captures the feel of those awkward middle school years well, the characters are believable, and it hits some nice, poignant emotional notes. And yet... Well, I think I was precisely the wrong reader for this one.

My biggest problem was that I kept getting hung up on the science (or the lack thereof). I told myself I wasn't going to, that I could just accept the premise for what it was, but I simply could not help it. The more details Walker threw in about what was happening, the more I felt compelled to question it all. So I spent a lot of the novel with this voice in the back of my head that went something like, "OK, if something magically increased the gravitational constant, that could account for most of this, including increased gravity and the slowing of the Earth's rotation due to tidal effects. Hey, maybe Q from Star Trek did it; he mentioned being able to once. But... But surely to account for a slowing this dramatic, it would have to be an increase big enough that it would cause way more havoc than is being described here. Hmm, I could dig out my old physics textbook and try to calculate it... No! No, my physics is too rusty, and I do not have the time to waste on that! Anyway, I'm sure it would turn out to be entirely inaccurate. But... But maybe..." And then the whole thing would repeat again. Eventually that voice faded a bit, but it was hard to concentrate on much else while it was nattering on.

And even aside from the science, I had some plausibility problems, including the fact that for ages I was trying to figure out what year this was, when every middle school kid has a cell phone but the internet doesn't exist. Eventually I decided it must be some kind of alternate universe. And then, 150 pages in, the narrator casually mentions something about blogs. So everybody was getting all their information from the newspaper and CNN and nobody ever found out anything about anything until they saw it on TV or heard if from a neighbor because...?

In fact, this lack-of-characters-being-aware-of-things-quickly-enough issue led to the book managing to inadvertently put me off with the very first sentence. The sentence is "we didn't notice right away," which by itself is a great first sentence. But what it's talking about is people not noticing that the day had increased by 56 minutes. And... OK. I work at an astronomical observatory. Every day, Thanksgiving and Christmas not excluded, we run a project for the US Naval Observatory designed to carefully measure the difference between rotation-of-the-Earth time and atomic clock time. They use our data to calculate this value down to, I believe, a hundred-thousandth of a second. And we pay attention to the results because if we don't, all our other observations will be a little bit off. The point is, we would notice. Long before the day slowed down by 56 minutes! And so would every amateur astronomer with a backyard telescope, for that matter. I think I almost felt personally insulted by this. Later, I decided this may have been unfair, as she seems to maybe be implying the 56-minute slowdown happened essentially overnight, rather than gradually, as I'd first assumed. Which, of course just takes us right back to the "I'm nearly certain that ought to have had even more dire consequences than it has in the book" problem.

And then there's the scene where the government announces -- reasonably enough, I thought, given how rapidly the days are lengthening -- that things are going to stay on 24-hour clock time, regardless of day or night. The protagonist is aghast. How can they possibly be expected to adapt to such a schedule?! Now, I work rotating shifts, and have for a very long time. I know all too well how badly being out of sync with the sun can screw with you, and probably I, of all people, should be sympathetic. But instead, all I could think at that moment was, "Welcome to my world, bitches! Now you'll see what it's like!" And then I started speculating about how maybe the slowing was actually the doing of some supervillain shiftworker who wanted to force the rest of the world to understand. Which, needless to say was not the effect the author was going for.

Indeed, none of that is remotely what this book is about. It's about a girl and her family living through difficult times. It's about the experience of early adolescence, and the fragility of everything, and a bit about humanity's relationship to time and to nature. And it doesn't do a bad job of being about those things, in a somewhat lightweight kind of way. I tried to appreciate it on that level, and I succeeded to a certain extent, but it was still hard for me to get past my various issues.

So. Basically, I think I would not recommend this book to people with physics degrees, people who have anything at all to do with astronomy, people who read a lot of hard SF and expect good scientific explanations for things, people who work night shifts and have some degree of resentment towards those who don't, or people whose suspension of disbelief snaps immediately when nobody in a modern-day story seems to have Facebook. For everybody else, if it sounds like your sort of thing, go for it! ( )
3 vote bragan | Nov 30, 2014 |
This novel seemed to read as slowly as the slowing of the Earth in the story. It also bothered me that, although it's supposed to begin in the present time or near future, many things seem already dated-- like cell phones in which you have to punch in the numbers again and again, and middle school kids who don't know about texting. ( )
  DonnaCallea | Nov 29, 2014 |
this book is so enthralling, i found myself looking around school after reading it, wondering why people weren't freaking out about the slowing, until I realised that I did not actually live in Julia's dystopian universe. ( )
  ellsie98 | Nov 16, 2014 |
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is about a world where the days get longer on Earth. The effects of "the slowing" are seen through the eyes of 11 year old Julia. Thompson's writing style is succinct and elegant, however the story leaves the reader feeling unfulfilled. While social constructs break down and everyday life is being reconstructed, Thompson leaves the reader asking for more. We see society being reshaped, but the narrative lacks detail. Interesting characters and plots are introduced, but not developed. The premise of the novel is quite enthralling - a world potentially nearing the end of its life. Animals are dying off in groves, the food supply is dwindling, and humans are fighting the negative effects of the slowing on their bodies. However, these occurrences are merely peripheral. It feels as if the main story is about how Julia is trying to make it through school, crushes, and puberty and it just so happens that the world is also falling apart. Thompson story is unique and is an easy read, however the heavy subject matter lacks depth. 3/5. ( )
  saudia89 | Nov 2, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Unlike other YA dystopian books I've read, Karen Thompson Walker's "The Age of Miracles" is not set in a post-known world. Rather, she carries her readers through the unknown, unknowable breakdown of the known world into a harsh new reality. Typical coming-of-age questions are cast against bigger moral, cultural, and ethical questions, all of which are framed by the unraveling of time. To begin with what is essentially our world before moving into a frightening future world affords readers the opportunity to ask "what if" questions of themselves that other dystopian novels sometimes lack. Recommended. ( )
  grkmwk | Sep 12, 2014 |
An enjoyable enough read, but not nearly as good as it should have been. There was so much potential here, and at the end it was an absolutely typical YA coming of age story that just happened to be set at the end of the world. In fact (and this is probably not far of the mark for a teenager) the protagonist is much more concerned with her loneliness and then her boyfriend than she is with the fact that everything and everyone is going to die. Initially I was intrigued by the angle that puberty is its own little apocalypse, and the two cataclysmic events - time slowing and middle school - paralleled each other. Then the author just dropped that and went to the blah blah blah bad things happen, love is magical and affirming that then lost, classmates are mean, storyline that you can find in Eleanor & Park, The Fault in our Stars, (both better written) and a million other YA books. What a shame. If the author had done even the slightest bit of work to learn something about the science of what would happen if the Earth's rotation was slowed and then had the people live through that rather than telling us that crops die when there are 48 hour nights and the electric grid can't handle the needs of a planet dependent on sunlamps to grow all food and otherwise live (duh!) this would have been an exponentially better book. I toyed with making this a 2 star, but this author writes pretty prose and I enjoyed reading it so a low 3 seems fair. ( )
  Narshkite | Aug 19, 2014 |
This was something that I wasn't sure I would like, but it really held my interest from beginning to end. It's fascinating to think about what would happen if the earth actually stopped doing what we expect/need it to. More than the characters' individual stories, I was interested in the ways that the governments and scientists tried to cope with what was happening,the way that some people refused to accept that there are things beyond human control. It was a good one, I would recommend it. ( )
  Hanneri | Aug 15, 2014 |
wow. This is a very thought provoking and well written book. I must admit, I kept looking at the clock and at the daylight. I felt as if I was there. Honestly, this book freaks me out a bit. I find it very disturbing as there isn't really any hope left, or very little. Life seems to be going on, but for how long. It makes me wonder how we would face such a situation. I think it would be much like in the book,although probably more violence than we see. Overall, this book has left me rather disturbed. ( )
  morandia | Aug 1, 2014 |
A lovely read that starts with the idea that the rotation of the earth is slowing down and then tells the reader what happens to the family of an 11-year-old girl from the period of the 'slowing'. This gives a human scale to a major disaster and we see the whole thing from her point of view. This, therefore, is not a novel full of science it is about emotions and teenage concerns. Julia, the 11-year-old, is a loner and is an observant teenager and she tells how the world changes, both the world outside her home and within her family, as the world slows further and further down. Well put together and an interesting novel. ( )
  Tifi | Jun 29, 2014 |
Plot: 3 stars
Characters: 3 stars
Style: 4 1/2 stars
Pace: 4 stars

So ephemeral, and it pops like a soap bubble afterwards, but while reading it, I really enjoyed it. ( )
  Jami_Leigh | Jun 22, 2014 |
As speculative pre-apocalyptic fiction, The Age of Miracles was reasonably good and sure to be memorable, although lacking a certain amount of social realism. As a story about actual character, centering around a girl becoming a young woman, it fell flat.

The Age of Miracles centers around "the slowing" which hits earth at what appears to be the present time and slows down the rotation of the earth, which increasingly lengthens both the day and the night with implications for everything from animal migrations to the ability to raise crops to baseball (affected by the altered gravity) to the magnetic field that protects the Earth from solar radiation. These consequences mount of the course of the book, wreaking increasing havoc on the environment and human society. (The lack of social realism is that no matter how much everything disintegrates, people can go the store and buy any manner of things, cell phones continue to work, and everything seems more functional than you think it would actually be.)

In this world, the most interesting divide is between the people who adhere to the government's request and stay on clock time, following the normal 24 hour patterns regardless of whether it is light or dark, and the more free spirited rebels living on "real time" staying up when it is light (a period that stretches as long as 24 hours and longer) and sleeping when it is dark (the mirror image of length). The real timers reject society, move to communes, and believe that by enjoying longer days they are slowing the process of aging.

Against this unique and interesting backdrop, the story that unfolds is rather pedestrian, could never stand on its own, and probably was not marketed as "young adult" because it was not interesting enough to hold the attention of young adults. The story is narrated in the first person by Julia, a 10 year old who by the end is 12 years old, and shows her falling out with various friends, discovery of new friends--in particular a boyfriend named Seth--as she watches her father have an affair with her piano teacher. None of this feels particularly perceptive or interesting or tells you very much about any of the characters other than Julia. And Julia is moderately interesting, but also goes through all the normal clich̩s of a coming of age story.

As a relatively fast read it might still be worthwhile. But it does not come close to some of the really great debut novels in recent years, with Swamplandia! being an obvious comparison. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
the writing wasn't incredible, but the story/concept was enough to keep me wanting to read. ( )
  outlandishlit | Jun 9, 2014 |
The Age of Miracles was without a doubt a very unique work of fiction. Something has happened that has caused a "slowing" of the earth and the length of the days begins to get longer. This would almost put it into a genre that I generally don't have much use for. The end of the world type of story. However, this one is very different mostly because of the way it is told. For its told through the voice of Julia, who is about to turn 12.

Julia's voice gives it a very different tone than would be expected from such a novel. For its almost a calm narration of how a would would react to a change in everything they know. As the slowing continues, there emerge all that we would expect from a reality of such a situation. The religious fanatics preaching the end of times the doomsayers, the deniers. Eventually, you get a split in society with the clockers (those that choose to run on the old 24 hour clock regardless of the ever increasing length of days and nights) and the real timers who live by the sun's time.

Julia goes through life doing her normal daily schedule and commenting on the people that come in and out of her life. How people change, things change, the sickness that affects many including her mother. And through it all, she still speaks with the dreams and wishes and fears of most any girl her age.

Its a beautifully told tale. Though I do have to say that the one thing that didn't fit well was that Julia's voice did not come across to me as that of a 12 year old. I would have put her age by her voice as that of a teenager. But, that if that is the worst I can say of a person's writing, then she did quite the job. And it seems the other reviews on her book seem to echo my sentiments as well. Karen Thompson Walker is most definitely a voice worth watching for in the future.

www.sephipiderwitch.com ( )
  sephibitchwitch | Jun 5, 2014 |
Haunting and beautifully written. Definitely more of a "makes you think" story than a "feel good" story. ( )
  AlexTully | Jun 5, 2014 |
A dark story about, yes, coming of age and the approaching apocalypse, but also about the meaninglessness of it all. The narrator's voice is detached and dooming and keeps you reading. Every now and again you have a feeling you ought to stop, really, but, similarly to people watching accidents, you keep reading because you want to know just how bad it gets. It gets very bad indeed. I agree with someone here who said that sience accuracy is beside the point. The questions that arise are philosophical, existantialist and , therefore, very uncomfortable ones. ( )
  flydodofly | May 31, 2014 |
This is a perfect example of a book that I probably would not have read if I wasn't doing readers' advisory. But should I be thankful that I am experiencing new stories and broadening my horizons or should I be shocked and terrified at the number of books I'm missing out on?

The Age of Miracles asks us an unusual yet profound question: What happens when our concepts of "day" and "night" no longer exist? In the story, scientists have discovered that the Earth's rotation is slowing, to the point where society no longer operates on a 24 hour schedule. Crops start dying. Sickness and disease start spreading. Some people abandon clocks all together and attempt to function using their circadian rhythms. The Earth's gravitational force starts to shift. No one knows what's causing it and no one knows how to stop it.

The plot occurs during the first year of the slowing and centers around eleven-year-old Julia. Julia is the story's only narrator, but she is recalling the events of that first year from a point many years in the future. This tells us that she survives the first year of the slowing, so there's no suspense as to whether or not she lives.

In fact, the plot is not particularly important to the story. Julia goes to school, deals with boys, watches her family slowly fall apart, but these are not the important factors. What's important is how the characters handle the crisis, and how Julia copes with this insecurity in addition to the typical insecurities of middle school. This is a story of reactions, relationships, emotions, and complicated questions.

Since the novel only takes place over the course of one year, the ending is not resolved. We know that Julia has lived, but we don't know what happens to her after that first year, and we don't know what will happen to her once the story ends. Generally, I prefer stories with more closure, but an ambiguous ending is really the only thing that works here.

I classify this novel as literary science fiction, although I know many readers will probably find fault with the "science fiction" aspect of the story. The emphasis is on complex, unanswerable questions, lyrical writing, nostalgia, and a bittersweet remembrance of how life used to be before the earth slowed. I'm adding this title to my list of "Sure Bets," and I think this also makes a good suggestion for readers who don't generally read literary fiction. At just under 300 pages, it's not a time consuming read and it doesn't demand a lot of mental effort from the reader. I imagine it as a reading journey - the story captures you at the very beginning and leaves you with an ache in your heart and more questions than answers.

Readalikes:

The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold. The bittersweet and emotional tones are very similar, and both novels add speculative elements to an otherwise literary story. The Lovely Bones is more emotionally intense, however, and contains much more violent material than The Age of Miracles.

The Last Policeman - Ben H. Winters. The genres are very different (mystery vs. literary science fiction), but both stories take place in pre-apocalyptic worlds in which the characters must go about their daily lives in the face of impending disaster.

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall - Nancy Kress. (From NoveList). Young protagonists struggle to make sense of their new societies & lifestyles in these bleak & thought-provoking stories. This book is more clearly defined as science fiction and may provide an appealing alternative to readers who wished The Age of Miracles provided more scientific realism. ( )
  coloradogirl14 | May 28, 2014 |
Really well written, but...odd? The strange science in this book bugged me (and my engineer husband more), and the strange characterization of Mormons (all the Mormon girls she knows grow their hair long and only wear dresses? Now we're Mennonites?!?) in the beginning made me bonkers.

I did enjoy the interactions with Sylvia and Seth, but I would have liked more with Julia's father, and it seemed like the story just kind of trailed off into nothingness. I don't need everything wrapped up in a neat bow, but I do like some resolution.

More on this book at fefferbooks.com! ( )
  fefferbooks | May 12, 2014 |
three star adult book; four star YA. ( )
  rabbit_winner | Apr 23, 2014 |
A poignant coming of age book set at a time when the earths rotation is slowing and the end of the world is imminent. A creepy sense of dread becomes an everyday event. People adapt to the unknown. As seen through the eyes of an 11 year old girl we attended middle school and see the effects of "clock time" vrs real time on society. Birds fall from the sky, whales beach themselves. All vegetation dies as the sun beats down 72 hours and then the long frosty nights take over. Snow in California. Awesome read. ( )
  Alphawoman | Apr 23, 2014 |
I was so intrigued by the premise of this book, and it did not disappoint! The author gives us a very unique spin on a coming-of-age tale. The narrator is Julia, looking back on her life in the year of "The Slowing." Even though she narrates as a young woman looking back on her life as a younger girl, there is still a child-like innocence to her recollection. Really beautiful narrative voice here.

The California suburb where Julia and her family live is peopled with interesting characters, including Sylvia, Julia's piano teacher and a New Age enthusiast who rebels against "Clock Time" and lives as a "real-timer." As the world begins to change, so do the people on it; however, everyone struggles to find some normalcy in their life.

Despite the drastic world circumstances, Julia still experiences the things that every young teen experiences: fights with best friends, embarrassing moments, first love. These experiences are real, but set against unsettling, awe-inspiring backdrops (beach mansions that have succumbed to the tides, populated by sea creatures, and the school yard in the midst of a total solar eclipse, were my favorites).

Karen Thompson Walker's debut novel is a thought-provoking read with some beautiful lines and memorable characters. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for something different. ( )
  thereaderscommute | Apr 13, 2014 |
I was so intrigued by the premise of this book, and it did not disappoint! The author gives us a very unique spin on a coming-of-age tale. The narrator is Julia, looking back on her life in the year of "The Slowing." Even though she narrates as a young woman looking back on her life as a younger girl, there is still a child-like innocence to her recollection. Really beautiful narrative voice here.

The California suburb where Julia and her family live is peopled with interesting characters, including Sylvia, Julia's piano teacher and a New Age enthusiast who rebels against "Clock Time" and lives as a "real-timer." As the world begins to change, so do the people on it; however, everyone struggles to find some normalcy in their life.

Despite the drastic world circumstances, Julia still experiences the things that every young teen experiences: fights with best friends, embarrassing moments, first love. These experiences are real, but set against unsettling, awe-inspiring backdrops (beach mansions that have succumbed to the tides, populated by sea creatures, and the school yard in the midst of a total solar eclipse, were my favorites).

Karen Thompson Walker's debut novel is a thought-provoking read with some beautiful lines and memorable characters. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for something different. ( )
  thereaderscommute | Apr 13, 2014 |
Amazing! Couldn't put this book down! ( )
  KatieCarella | Apr 12, 2014 |
An eerily haunting book about Julia and her family in the days after the earth's rotation slows. It's an interesting depiction of human behavior and how some people adapt, others stubbornly hold out and everyone has fear of change; how they handle it is the beauty of the book. ( )
  obedah | Mar 26, 2014 |
I enjoyed this book very much.

The story is narrated by Julia, and as she entered adolesence, the world fell into disaster: the rotation of the earth slowed. The days became longer as the sun rose later and later with each passing day. Plants and animals began to die out. People started experiencing strange symptoms from the slowing.

During this time, Julia is in her "age of miracles", the teen years where days are long and anything is possible. But in her case, the days were becoming longer but life becomes fleeting, and the impossible becoming possible is putting the whole world at risk.

Julia experiences many joys and bitterness: she loses her best friend, she sees her parents drifting apart, she experiences death and destruction. But she also finds love.

The book is dark and melancholic, but I find myself drawn very much to Julia because of her quiet and passive character as a single child. She has a part of her who is brave and empathetic. What she experiences, though magnified by "the slowing", is what many of us go through during our own adolescent years.

I only wished the ending wasn't so abrupt, but the final paragraph was so perfect, I don't think it could've ended any other way.
  deadgirl | Mar 25, 2014 |
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