Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles
Karen Thompson Walker
Published by Random House
288 pages
Available on
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
5 / 5 cupcakes

Sometimes, you get to read a book that grabs your mind and doesn't let go, even when you finish reading it. You might even feel angry when it's over, because you don't want to say goodbye.

Such is the case with The Age of Miracles, which made me so nervous and anxious while I was reading it that I thought I would have to self-medicate with some chocolate chips with walnuts. And now that I finished reading it, I'm PISSED OFF. How dare Karen Thompson Walker write this and then end it? I mean, the nerve of some people.

So here is the premise: for reasons no one seems to understand, the world starts spinning slower. Days take longer, the earth's magnetic field is disturbed, and life as we know it changes radically and unsparingly. Told from the point of view of 11-year-old Julia, the "slowing," as it's called, is a metaphor for the changes Julia experiences on the cusp of puberty. You remember middle school, right? How your best friend one day won't speak to you the next? What it was like to have a mad, secret crush on a boy who seems oblivious to you? And what it felt like when he finally - FINALLY - paid attention to you? Oh, and the boobs. Remember what it was like waiting for those to come in?

While Julia and the rest of the world try to adjust to the slowing, Julia also has to adjust to the circumstances in her own life. Her parents' marriage seems problematic, to say the least, and Julia's allegiances fluctuate as she tries to figure out how much of her parents' problems are due to the slowing and how much to them just being them? The same goes for her friendships and even her piano lessons. When whales wash up on the shore, she hopes that by cooling them with cups of water, she can save them. She is desperate for her small gestures to be useful and effective. She wants things to stay the same, yet she craves change. Most of all, she wants to figure out who she is and what is her place in the world.
What I understood so far about this life was that there were the bullies and the bullied, the hunters and the hunted, the strong and the stronger and the weak, and so far I'd never fallen into any group - I was one of the rest, a quiet girl with an average face, one in the harmless and unharmed crowd. But it seemed all at once that this balance had shifted.
While so much of her life changes - her waking day may begin as early as 2:00 a.m., when the sun rises - some things stay the same. Julia still has to go to school, she still feels slighted when someone throws a birthday party and doesn't invite her. She still has soccer practice. She needs those remnants of stability to ground her in her unstable world, a place where she learns that "so much that seems harmless in daylight turns imposing in the dark. What else, you had to wonder, was only a trick of light?"

You should know that there are moments of bleakness in this book. Gut wrenching, heartbreaking moments of extreme sadness. They make Julia - and us - savor her moments of joy, because we know how tenuous and fleeting those will be.

The only problem with The Age of Miracles is that it ends. And, okay, the ending is not fabulous. I have tried to figure out how it could have ended, and I'm left with no ideas. Karen Thompson Walker does not slap on a happy ending, and for that she should be commended. She ends with just as many questions as she started, but then again, that's life, right? Do we ever get the answers, even in an age of miracles?

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