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Wonderful Coming-of-Age End-of-the-World Novel

  • Aug 23, 2012
The "problem" with NPR is that they expose me to authors I would not normally seek out, as they regularly have segments concerning new books. Such is the case with Karen Thompson Walker and her novel "The Age of Miracles."

Julia is nearing her twelfth birthday, becoming aware of boys, and is navigating the treacherous shoals of middle school, with the cliques, gossip, and need to feel a part of something. All of that can be traumatic. What really causes problems for her, and everyone else on Earth, is that planet's rotation is slowing.

A day, as we know it, consists of twenty-four hours. As the "days" continue, the Earth takes longer and longer to rotate, causing a day to last more than 24 hours. A lot more.

"The Age of Miracles," from what I learned during the author's interview on NPR, is well grounded in science. For those looking for an "end of the world" novel, this is a good novel. What makes it a much better novel is the focus on Julia, her family, and the attempts at normal - school, athletics, relationships. Walker creates a believable character, using believable dialogue and situations, which draw the reader into Julia's changing world and personal life. There were times when I wanted to shout at Julia because of her limited view of her surroundings, but I held back; that is exactly how a young person would react, what she would say. Because of the depth that Walker provides, you are utterly captivated by the story.

The interesting thing about the novel is how it is structured. It seems to be moving inversely from the rotation of the Earth. Early chapters move slowly, setting up scenes, characters, situations. As the novel progresses, it becomes harder and harder to stop reading until you reach the last page, with a "Rosebud" moment. It's at that point where you stop, look around, and ask, "That's all? There *has* to be more." Walker has so thoroughly involved you in the story, the characters, the slow death of the Earth
you are begging for more - just one more chapter, just one more page.

I was, at first, disappointed by what I was reading. I firmly believed that I was supposed to be reading an apocalyptic novel, caused by the slowing of the Earth. But it turns out that The Age of Miracles is a coming-of-age novel that is complicated by a severe natural disaster. The combination is positively wonderful.

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August 29, 2012
Sounds impressive!
About the reviewer
Gregg Eldred ()
Ranked #72
It never ceases to amaze me how many doors have opened up for me since I started reviewing the books I read. Publishers now send me free books to read and review. Authors contact me. Kind folks at Lunch … more
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2012: In The Age of Miracles, the world is ending not with a bang so much as a long, drawn-out whimper. And it turns out the whimper can be a lot harder to cope with. The Earth's rotation slows, gradually stretching out days and nights and subtly affecting the planet's gravity. The looming apocalypse parallels the adolescent struggles of 10-year-old Julia, as her comfortable suburban life succumbs to a sort of domestic deterioration. Julia confronts her parents' faltering marriage, illness, the death of a loved one, her first love, and her first heartbreak. Karen Thompson Walker is a gifted storyteller. Her language is precise and poetic, but style never overpowers the realism she imbues to her characters and the slowing Earth they inhabit. Most impressively, Thompson Walker has written a coming-of-age tale that asks whether it's worth coming of age at all in a world that might end at any minute. Like the best stories about the end of the world, The Age of Miracles is about the existence of hope and whether it can prevail in the face of uncertainty. --Kevin Nguyen

Q&A with Karen Thompson Walker
Karen Thompson Walker

Q. In The Age of Miracles, you envision a natural phenomenon that threatens the entire world. This "slowing" is global, yet you decided to focus on Julia. Why?

A. Julia's voice--the voice of a young woman looking back on her adolescence--came into my head as soon as I had the idea of the slowing. It was the ...

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