“The Age of Miracles” is not just another teen novel

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Author Karen Thompson Walker will have a signing of her New York Times Bestselling novel “The Age of Miracles” at Book People
on Friday.  Photo by Ramin Talaie.

The Earth’s rotation around the sun is slowing measurably with each passing day. The force of gravity is growing heavier and no one has a clue what the cause is. Karen Thompson Walker’s “The Age of Miracles” opens on a seemingly typical Saturday morning that turns into the day everyone realized the Earth as they knew it was changing. 

In one terrifying announcement, the world’s leading scientists revealthat the Earth’s rotation around the sun is slowing down. Periods of light and darkness grow longer, dramatically skewing the way people choose to live their lives. “The Age of Miracles” recounts the slowing through the narration of a young woman, Julia, as she looks back in time.

Julia’s recollection of what it was like to be 11 years old during such extraordinary times is the usual coming-of-age story staged against an impending apocalypse. The typical problems of every young adult novel arise — childhood friends grow distant, crushes turn into love and families fall apart. These issues are played out by the standard teen archetypes, like the mysterious, shaggy-haired crush, the chubby Goth friend who finds love online and shaves her head and the protagonist’s frantically-judgmental mother. Even in apocalyptic times, the usual suspects are wreaking havoc on Julia’s confidence and vision of her world.

While it follows the stock pattern of most teen novels, “The Age of Miracles” stands apart from the likes of the “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” series as an astonishing literary debut. The realism with which Walker renders Julia’s story is beautiful, frightening and stunning. In what is arguably a more fantastical set of circumstances — life on Earth is slowly but surely ending — Walker manages to keep Julia’s story believable and relatable.

There’s a wistful sadness to adult Julia’s drama; to her, it feels like her world is ending when the actual world literally might. Her matter-of-factness about the state of things further convinces the reader that humanity’s time on Earth is coming to an inevitable close. 

Walker’s subtlety in recalling mild everyday moments authenticates Julia’s experiences. Many of the simplest memories and feelings are the ones that turn out to be the most important. However, Walker’s abusive use of foreshadowing becomes an exhaustive nuisance that cuts off many opportunities for surprise. The story would have benefited from cutting phrases like, “We were driving a silver station wagon, although the police report would later describe it as blue,” which was ever so casually sprinkled into a conversation between Julia and her mother. 

“The Age of Miracles” brings to light that the most terrifying problems of life are the invisible ones. No one could see the slowing or the change in the Earth’s magnetic field, just as cancer and falling out of love are often invisible to us. Walker reminds us that the power of the unseen affects us all.

Published in January 25, 2013 as "Book recounts girl's life in apocalyptic time".